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St. Patrick calls us to live in the Heart of the Church for the Sake of the World

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 17th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Patrick cultivated a lifestyle of deep, constant and abiding prayer which bore the fruits of ongoing conversion. He learned to discern the voice of the Lord in his daily life, developed the eyes of faith and received the power of the Holy Spirit through which he was able to respond to the call to become a missionary in his age. Each of us is invited to do exactly the same in our age. The Risen Lord who changed Patrick's life still calls men and women today. 

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - On the day when the whole world becomes Irish, I am drawn again to reflection on my own Irish ancestry, my life changing visit to Ireland and my deep love for St. Patrick. His story of conversion and call to missionary work can become an inspiration to those who recognize the times in which we live and the challenges we face. Many speak of the current state of western culture as "post Christian", others "post modern" and still others, "neo-pagan". However, I choose to view it as "Pre-Christian". That was how Patrick viewed the Ireland he came to love. How it all happened is important to recall on this St. Patrick's Day. 

He was raised in a Christian home in Britain toward the end of the fourth century. It was an age much like our own, gripped by a "culture of death" and filled with a spirit of lawlessness. Tragedy struck Patrick at sixteen years old when he was kidnapped by Irish Pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle. He  wrote in his autobiographical work called the Confession: "I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.  My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem TaburniŠ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive."

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This captivity was the first experience Patrick would have of the land that he would later come to love and for which he would give himself away in tireless missionary service. Upon arrival in this plush, green, breathtaking and beautiful land, he was sold as property to a petty chieftain who put him to work with his herds of swine. Patrick could have become embittered. In fact, the reaction would have been understandable. Instead, he became holy. When he recalled these traumatic events in his marvelous work the Confession, he perceived the tragedy not as a victim but rather as a penitent: "I was then about sixteen years of age. I knew not the true God; and I went into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of persons, according to our deserts, because we departed away from God, and kept not His commandments, and were not obedient to our priests, who used to admonish us for our salvation"

While he was a slave, Patrick recalled his Christian upbringing and turned back to that true God of whom he wrote so eloquently. He became a pilgrim, turning his captivity into a time of spiritual growth. He learned to walk the way of love by following Jesus Christ. He wrote of that time: "Now, after I came to Ireland, tending flocks was my daily occupation; and constantly I use to pray in the daytime. Love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and faith grew, and the spirit was moved, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night nearly as many, so that I use to stay even in the woods and on the mountain to this end. And before daybreak I use to be roused to prayer, in snow, in frost, in rain. And I felt no hurt, nor was there any sluggishness in me- as I now see because the spirit was then fervent within me"

After six years of unjust captivity, during which this pilgrim had become a mystic through real, sustained and constant prayer, Patrick escaped with the help of some friendly traders. He pledged that he would never return to Ireland. However, the God whom Patrick had fallen in love with during captivity had other plans for his life. In the middle of the night the Lord gave Patrick a vision which he recorded for posterity. Because he responded to the invitation contained in that vision, this wonderful man was used by the Living and true God to literally change the history of not only Ireland but the rest of the world:

"And there verily I saw in the night visions, a man whose name was Victorius coming as it were from Ireland with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter, which was entitled "The Voice of the Irish"; and while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letter, I thought that at that very moment I heard the voice of those who lived beside the wood of Folcut, which is nigh unto the Western Sea. And thus they cried, as with one mouth: "We beseech thee, O holy youth, to come and walk once more among us." And I was exceedingly broken in heart, and would read no further. And so I awoke. Thanks be to God, that after very many years the Lord granted to them according to their cry"

Through much perseverance Patrick finally returned to Ireland, now an ordained servant of the Church of that true God. His "Confession" tells of his experience of being used to transform that beautiful land into a seedbed of Christianity through his evangelization and missionary work. It also shares the experiences of a humble man who experienced the power of the grace of God. His story shows every one of us how to live in the power of that grace, right now! The Pilgrim Patrick is a model for our age and for the new evangelization that the Church in the West so desperately needs. We live in a new missionary age. Patrick┤s progression in understanding the content and the claim of the Catholic Christian faith into which he was Baptized must become our experience, the experience of every Baptized member of the Church - if we hope to do for our land what he did for the Nation he loved so dearly.

Patrick chose to reject "victim-hood" and self-centeredness. Instead, he embraced the way of the Cross, and learned the power of the Resurrection. That is why he was able to become a true disciple and carry on the redemptive mission of Jesus. He fell in love with the Lord by developing a profound and transforming interior life and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ which was nourished in the Sacramental life of the Church. Patrick cultivated a lifestyle of deep, constant and abiding prayer which bore the fruits of ongoing conversion. He learned to discern the voice of the Lord in his daily life, developed the eyes of faith and received the power of the Holy Spirit through which he was able to respond to the call to become a missionary in his age. Each of us is invited to do exactly the same in our age. The Risen Lord who changed Patrick's life still calls men and women, just as he called Patrick, and invites them to a new life in and through His Son Jesus Christ.

On this day, when the entire world pauses to remember Patrick┤s life and his legacy, to rightly celebrate his full and meaningful life, and to honor to a beautiful country and people who have sent Christian missionaries to the rest of the world, let us truly honor his memory by choosing to walk as Christians in both word and deed. Like Patrick, let us choose to really follow Jesus Christ. Let us march into the Third Christian Millennium called as was this wonderful saint and hero, to proclaim, demonstrate and live the fullness of the Gospel, living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. Like Patrick we are called to become "fishers of men and women".

In his Confessions, he exhorted "one should, in fact, fish well and diligently,   just as the Lord foretells and teaches, saying, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,' and, again, through the prophets: "Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters," says the Lord,' ... So it behooved us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God, and so there might be clergy everywhere who baptized and exhorted a needy and desirous people. Just as the Lord   says in the Gospel, admonishing and instructing: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of time."

The most loving thing we can do for our fellow countrymen and women is to bring them to the Lord Jesus Christ and into the Church which he founded. On this day the world becomes Irish, St. Patrick calls us to live in the Heart of the Church for the Sake of the World. As we celebrate St. Patrick's Day let us join in his prayer: "Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me King of my heart; Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me never to part. Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ all around me shield in strife; Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising light of my life. Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me King of my heart; Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me never to part."

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