St Patrick – A Reflection
It is an amazing fact that God loves each and every one of us, no matter where or when we live or who we are and knows each of us intimately. A human will know only a very few others well and, even at best, there will be much to another person which will remain a mystery, no matter how close we are to them. There are about 67 million people currently alive in the UK and how many can we say we know at all, never mind knowing well? Yet God knows each and every one of the hundred-odd billion people who have ever lived far more intimately than we could ever know ourselves! That is beyond amazing! When one considers God’s greatness, even just on this point, it is so stupendous that one’s very breath is taken away.
As well as knowing us so intimately, God has a plan for each one of us which takes fully into account our strengths and weaknesses, our concerns and our hopes – and this is always linked in, not just to our own ultimate good, but that of others, too. Of course, we may refuse his plan – quite often through not recognizing it when we are confronted with it, but he will never abandon us when we fail to act as he would have us do, always giving us new opportunities to serve him and thus progress our own well-being. When we reflect carefully on our lives, we may often easily discern where God has been active in them to accomplish his plan – even is we have often missed the path.
In looking at the life of St Patrick, whose feast day this is, we can easily discern God’s plan for him, his grace fully alive in him – although, at the time, Patrick, like most of the rest of us, often felt like he was blundering around in the dark.
Patrick was born in the late 4<sup>th</sup> Century, probably in what is now Cumbria, close enough to the coast for Irish raiders to kidnap him when he was sixteen. He lived in a Roman Empire which was increasingly under external attack and was brought up in a firmly Christian family – his father was a deacon of the Church. On being kidnapped and taken to Ireland, which was beyond the Empire, the young Patrick was sold into slavery and endured six miserable years as a herdsman. Confronted with the seeming devastation of his young life, he tuned with fervour to his faith, his relationship with God alone sustaining him through these years.
Now, we are fortunate in that Patrick, later on, wrote a sort of diary, which we can still read today. He had a dream in which the ship on which he was to escape was ready to sail, so heeding the dream, he fled from his master and managed to gain passage to Britain on a ship! We are accustomed to reading, in the Bible, of such dreams but how often do we reject them as myths and legends, made up after the event, by others, to explain a series of actions? Yet here is the mature Patrick recounting a dream which impelled him to escape! Actually, God does, quite often, communicate with us through dreams and we should not be astonished by Patrick’s experience. Perhaps God has communicated with you through a dream? Much modern research into such things would seem to confirm their reality and frequency! Likewise, it is far from uncommon that angels, who are God’s messengers, speak to people. Sometimes, this may even be audible and not ‘in your head’ and will be confirmed by events. Given how God cares for each of us, his sending angels and even saints to us should be unsurprising! Whilst, of course, we should be careful about accepting all such voices as being from God, neither should we be automatically dismissive of them. If we listened more carefully, it is possible that our lives might have taken a very different course from the ones they have followed!
We should all be familiar with the story of how Patrick became a missionary bishop, returning to Ireland to become the greatest (though not the only) missionary to that land. Undoubtedly, there were others who would have shown themselves equal to the task – but it was Patrick whom God entrusted it to. God, who knew Patrick so utterly, saw in him gifts, which, with his grace, allowed Patrick to become a channel of that grace to so many generations of Irish men and women, and to others as well. Through his labours in Ireland, he was enabled by the Lord to bring so many – countless – people to the knowledge and love of God, to bring them to Christ and, washed in the waters of baptism and fed with Christ’s own Body and Blood, enabled them to enter into the eternal Kingdom of God. Not a bad legacy!
In our day and age, so many people scoff at the idea of the supernatural. Absorbed with our own cleverness and certain in our prideful rejection of the very idea of the divine, we make ourselves the measure of the universe. As even a mild pandemic has demonstrated, though, we are but as gnats in reality, prey to all the forces of nature and certainly far from being masters of the Universe. As St Patrick, along with countless others saints and ordinary Christians, have shown, if we do but allow ourselves to be used by God, following his plan for our lives, rather than determinedly believing we know what is best, perhaps our lives would be richer and our witness more effective. Let us, like Patrick, seek always to listen for and to the voice of God, expecting him to be active in our lives. We may not, as St Patrick did, convert nations – but if we can bring, through our witness, even one person to the love of God then we will have done a mighty work for the glory of God.