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A New Springtime for the Church in Ireland: Who is Saint Patrick and Why Does it Matter?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

His story still inspires us for a reason. It needs to be heard once again and written in the lives of contemporary saints for the Third Christian millennium, a new missionary age. Let us pray for the Church of Jesus Christ which Patrick helped to plant in Ireland. Let us ask the Lord to heal, restore and revive the whole Catholic Church

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - In March of 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Catholics of Ireland.It can be read in its entirety here. I encourage you to read this letter for two reasons.

First, because it countered the claim that the Catholic Church has not acted in the face of this crisis; she has, and with great strength.Pope Benedict XVI "pulled no punches" in writing this letter. But perhaps more importantly, because it gave us a profound insight into the quality of the leadership of the Church at this critical time in history.

The Irish Church is undergoing a season of profound purification. She is in need of repentance and renewal. She desperately needs modern Saint Patrick's to bring her back to the purity and beauty of the ancient but ever new faith which he helped to plant in beautiful land.   

Pope Benedict XVI also laid out a vision for the future of Ireland. He reaffirmed the history of the Church in Ireland and her missionary accomplishments around the world. He encouraged the Irish faithful by rekindling their hope. He knew their hearts had been broken and expressed his fatherly concern for their well being, as well his solidarity.

He ended his pastoral letter with a prayer he composed, telling the faithful, "I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church."

Here is the Prayer: "God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation, the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal, the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters."

"Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society."
"Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland."

"May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family."

"To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland. Amen."

On the weekend upon which we commemorate St. Patrick we need to pray for men and women to take up his mission. His story still inspires after all these years. That is because it needs to be heard once again and written in the lives of contemporary saints for the Third Christian millennium which is a new missionary age.

He was raised in a Christian home in Britain toward the end of the fourth century. This 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.

This was the first experience he 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 this young man 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. 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, 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 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. The Pilgrim Patrick is a model for our age and for the new evangelization that we so desperately need. We live in a new missionary age. Patrick´s progression of faith must become our own.

Patrick chose to reject "victim-hood" and self-centeredness. Instead, he embraced the way of the Cross, carrying on the redemptive mission of Jesus. He fell in love with the Lord by developing a profound and transforming interior life, a personal relationship with God. He did this through deep, constant and abiding prayer. In this way of life, the Christian way, he learned to discern the voice of the Lord in his daily life, developed the eyes of faith and responded with perseverance to the call to become a missionary. Each of us is invited to do the same.

On the day when the entire world pauses to remember Patrick´s life and his legacy, to rightly celebrate a full and meaningful life- and to honor to a beautiful country and people who have sent missionaries to the rest of the world to carry Patrick´s work forward through the ages, let us truly honor his memory by choosing to walk in His way.

Let us pray for the Church of Jesus Christ which Patrick helped to plant in Ireland. Let us ask the Lord to heal, restore and revive the Catholic Church in Ireland. Let us make Patrick´s wonderful prayer, which reflects his very real life, our own. Let us march into the Third Christian Millennium called, as was this wonderful saint and hero, to proclaim, demonstrate and live the Gospel:

"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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