May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer.
First Listen, Then Act
While today is the second Sunday in Lent, it is also the feast day of St. Patrick. With a name like Antrim, which is the county where Belfast is located, I can’t not talk about St. Patrick. I’m sure you all know a number of traditions and legends about St. Patrick such as he drove the snakes from Ireland. I’ve been to Ireland and never saw a snake, but then reptiles never made it across the land bridge that prehistorically linked the island to the European continent, so there never were snakes in Ireland. And then St. Patrick wasn’t even an Irishman by birth. He was born in Britain in the early 400s CE. The Roman Legions had withdrawn from the British Isles and Britain was a lawless place full of anarchy, looting and kidnapping. When he was 16 he was captured by Irish slave- traders, taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold. Back home his grandfather had been a priest and his father a deacon so he had been raised in the Christian tradition, but did not follow the faith he had been taught. However, during his lonely years in a barbaric place, amidst a foreign language, and strange customs, the teachings sown into his heart in childhood took root. Just as Moses in our reading this morning heard the voice of God, Patrick heard a voice in a dream telling him that his ship was ready. So he escaped, travelling 200 miles to a ship which took him aboard. After briefly being recaptured and escaping again he made his way home. His family welcomed him back. By all accounts the story should have had its Happy Ending right there with Patrick living out his life comfortably back home. But again he heard a voice directing him to return to Ireland and this voice told him it was according to his Confessions “He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.” Patrick was a man of action, with little inclination toward learning and he had a rock-like belief in his vocation. Despite opposition from those who felt his education had been defective and his Latin rustic, he went back to Ireland. He continues in his Confessions so “. . .guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, not by my own grace but by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all, so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure many persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others” So Patrick went back and spent the rest of his life in Ireland. He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s servant in winning most of Ireland for Christ. In less than a century after St. Patrick’s death Ireland was covered with churches and convents for men and women. The monastic institutions were training schools and workshops for transcribing sacred books. So while the rest of Europe was sinking into the dark ages of ignorance with the dissolution of the Roman Empire, Ireland was investing in training schools and books. The Irish missionaries went to Scotland, North Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and as far as Northern Italy spreading the Gospel. This is Patrick’s legacy. But there would be no legacy, if he had not first listened. Patrick listened to the voice of God and followed that voice back to Ireland. God speaks to us today as well, although at times it is hard to hear his voice in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. We live in a society, with education and knowledge advanced far beyond that of Patrick’s time, but with a decadence that in many ways surpasses the self- indulgence of his era. God is still speaking to us. Are we listening? Perhaps our pride coupled with all the noisy props and entertainments we have built around us render us unable to hear. Could God be speaking to you now and calling you to act. Take time to stop, be still and listen for the voice of God.
But it was not enough that he listened.
He followed the admonitions that St. Paul wrote to the Philippians. He stood firm in the Lord. He conducted himself with Christ as his example. Paul models his life on Christ, reflected in the words “for to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (1:22). For Paul, all of life is captured in Christ so that everything Paul does is generated by Christ and done for his sake. For this reason, Paul provides Jesus Christ as the quintessential example for his audience to follow. He calls them to think and act in humility and self-sacrificial service towards each other (2:1-4). They are to look at Jesus, who acted in humility and self-sacrificial service towards humanity in his incarnation and in his crucifixion (2:5-11). And this is what Patrick did. After first listening, Patrick acted in imitation of Christ. He led a life of poverty and service, rejecting the comfortable lifestyle of his parents. He was humble and self-sacrificing. After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling and working tirelessly, Patrick died on March 17, 461.
We too are called by God to live a humble and self-sacrificial life, in imitation of Christ. We are to listen for God’s voice and we are to act, just as Patrick did. We probably won’t be called to do missionary work in another country; but we can witness to the Gospel here in our church, our homes, and our community. We can witness by our love of each other, by our compassion for strangers. We can carry the love of God that we experience here in Church today outside these doors to our families, our neighbors, our community, our world. Patrick was but one individual and look at the impact he had because he listened and he acted. What impact might we have as individuals and more so as the Church going out into the world. This week share God’s love with someone by visiting the sick or dying, by feeding the hungry through volunteering with meals on wheels, by prating with those who are lonely, grieving or depressed. As St. Patrick brought Christ to Ireland, let us bring Christ to our community.
I would like to close with the Prayer of St. Patrick. It can be found as an insert in your bulletin. Let us pray it together,
The Prayer of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
May we all feel Christ’s presence surrounding us every day as St. Patrick prayed.