St. Patrick: Intimacy with God
The Reverend Christopher Hogin
St. Patrick: Intimacy with God
Jeremiah 31:31 – 34; Psalm 51:1-3.
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
March 17, 2018
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. All sort of celebrations commenced. In Chicago, they dyed the river green. In Boston, a massive St. Patrick’s Day parade was held. Yet few people know about the man they celebrate. When asked the question, “who was Saint Patrick,” taken from a video clip, here was one of my favorite replies from a partygoer in Boston: “Uh yeah, he’s the guy on the Lucky Charms cereal box. He drove the snakes into the ha-bar!”
Not exactly, but he is both a Roman Catholic AND an Anglican saint? Here at Ascension, we have a stained-glass window of him. Patrick, or Patricus (his Latin name), was born in 390 on the northwest coast of Britain. He grew up in a comfortable home. By all accounts he was a beloved child. His grandfather was a priest (when priests could still marry), and his father a deacon. Patrick later reflected that during his early period of life, he didn’t really believe in God, and thought priests were foolish.
At sixteen, he was kidnapped by raiding Irish pirates and carried off from Britain to Ireland. There he worked as a shepherd in a remote corner of Northern Ireland. Stripped of his home, language, and culture, he had nothing. His only companions were hunger and nakedness. He lost everything. What he did have was prayer. He prayed in the morning and in the evening. Through intimate prayer he became transformed. Everything changed. Upon his arrival, the Irish landscape was brutal: gray, cold and wet. Through prayer the land was no longer his enemy. It became holy. He found God in everything and in everyone. In this exile, he confronted his sins, his fears, and his anxieties, and laid them before God.
He writes: “Tending flocks was my daily work. I would pray constantly. The love of God and fear of him surrounded me—and my faith grew. I would say as many as a hundred prayers, even while I remained in the woods or on the mountain. I would wake and pray before daybreak—through snow, frost, rain, because the Spirit within me was ardent.”
I love that line, the Spirit within me was ardent. It shows how such a level of intimacy with God had a transformative effect. One night a voice told him it was time to go. Patrick awoke. Without thinking, he walked 200 miles until he reached the coast. There, he caught a ship, and found his way back home to Britain, and his family.
Years later he had another vision, beckoning him back to Ireland. Toughened physically, psychologically, and spiritually, Patrick was ready. Ordained a bishop, he returned and founded over 300 churches, and baptized over 120,000 people, including powerful chieftains.
His influence sparked a love of learning and education. Monasteries grew, and as they grew, monks copied and created libraries of all the great works of western literature: Homer, Cicero, and Virgil to name a few. When the Roman empire fell, those works fell prey to the ash heap of destruction from vandals. It was the Irish who saved and protected all of western literature, theology, and culture. As the author Thomas Cahill wrote in his 1995 acclaimed book, How The Irish Saved Civilization. Had it not been for Patrick, we might not be sitting here today.
All of this happened because Patrick had an intimate, open, and honest relationship with God. He never had any grand ambitions or desires. He simply immersed himself with God. Such a relationship had a profound transformative effect not only on him, but the whole world.
One would think that such an intimate relationship with God would make him pious, stuffy, and detached. Rather, the opposite occurred: Patrick was accessible, friendly, down to earth, and even funny. In a word, he was Irish. He took his mission seriously, but not himself.
That he converted the majority of brutal pagan chieftains by the force of his personality is astonishing. His witness shows us what can happen when we also engage in an intimate relationship with God.
This kind of intimate interaction with God is precisely what we find in our Old Testament readings. Here’s Jeremiah: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. It concludes with “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” In the Psalm: For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.”
Both reveal an open and honest relationship with God. Read the Psalms and Jeremiah in their totality. You will find every facet of humanity: anger, despair, and sadness, along with hope, joy, and praise. It’s all there! It’s an intimate honest connection with God.
When we find ourselves feeling banished, alone and isolated in our lives (and we all will) may we look to the prophet Jeremiah, the Psalms, and to Saint Patrick. May we submit ourselves to a holy and intimate relationship with God by laying before God our sins, our fears, our hopes, our anxieties, and our praise. Like Patrick, may we take our lives seriously, but not ourselves so seriously.
Finally, may our prayer life and relationship with God be, not about asking something from God, but rather, sharing with God. May we reveal ourselves fully to God, so that God may transform us fully—not just for our sake, but for the sake of all.