The Feast day of St Patrick is a day of great celebration here in Ireland and across the world. The figure of St Patrick continues to enliven and capture the imagination of many people. In order to ensure that this great Saint may not get lost amidst all the festivities we may ask, ‘what is the Church through the Liturgy saying to us about the figure of St Patrick? And what does his story teach us today?
If we go behind the folklore, mythology and fables to the real St Patrick, we find a fascinating man; a man whose faith life deepened in the midst of great suffering. Many aspects of St Patrick’s life can compare in many ways to some great biblical figures; two of which are Abraham and Joseph. In the entrance antiphon of the Mass the Church uses the text from Genesis 12:1-2, ‘The Call of Abraham,’ to highlight the radical nature in which they both left all to respond to the call of God: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
If we look at Scripture we can see that St Patrick’s capture, transport and enslavement is reminiscent of the Patriarch Joseph in Genesis. When Joseph was handed over and brought down to Egypt would he ever have thought that he would one day save that country from famine and that he would be vice-regent of the same country? The unfortunate events in the lives of Saint Patrick and the Patriarch Joseph give us a great insight into the providential plan of God to turn what seems like disaster into good. Joseph recognized this in faith when he said to his brothers, “The evil you planned to do to me has by God’s design been turned to good, to bring about the present result: the survival of a numerous people (Gn 50: 20). The evil done to Patrick was also turned to good by the grace of God. He introduced the person of Christ and His Gospel to some, and he strengthened the faith of others: how we need his help and prayers once more in our own time.
In the life of St Patrick and the Patriarch Joseph we see how seemingly hopeless situations can turn out in life to be the places where the greatest growth happens in our spiritual life. If we keep our eyes on Christ He will give us the light to see His action in our lives, even in the midst of seemingly unfortunate situations.
A central theme in the stories of both Patrick and Joseph is that of ‘enslavement.’ When we think of slavery we mostly concentrate on the physical, external sense of being enslaved, yet, there is a deeper reality underlying physical enslavement, and this is spiritual enslavement which can manifest itself physically in terms of addiction of all kinds. When Our Lord in St John’s Gospel tells us “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” He is not talking about physical enslavement, but is speaking of an interior spiritual reality that is the remedy for the bondage in which many people find themselves today.
The Irish once cried out to Patrick in a dream, ‘We are asking you, holy boy, to come and continue to walk among us’ (Confessions: Par. 23). Let us ask this day for St Patrick’s intercession in asking the Lord Jesus to ‘come and continue to walk among us’ so that the Church in Ireland may be renewed in the spirit of zeal for the Gospel that so characterized our Holy Patron.