Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Gospel According to Paddy

The 17 March is St. Patrick’s Day and is celebrated by millions around the world. I have written on the Irish in the U.A.E. in the related article, Celebrating the Irish in the U.A.E.

Have you heard the one about the Irishman who was really an Englishman? To be sure, to be sure, Patrick was born in the south of England about 389 A.D. Although his parents were Christians, he thought his family’s faith was a load of blarney. At sixteen he was kidnapped, taken to Ireland and forced to work in harsh conditions as a shepherd. As so many in a tight spot have discovered since, he said, “there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God.” Quite possibly he would have reached out to God in these words he had learned as a child:

Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive
those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil,
for the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours,
now and forever.

Six years later Patrick escaped and was reunited with his family in England who found him to be quite a different person. While there he received a vision to return to Ireland to proclaim the Gospel so he began to train for his missionary calling. No great shakes as a student, this one who was to become Ireland’s patron saint wrote, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.”

He was commissioned around 435 and arriving in the Emerald Isle he conducted his missionary journeys from the northern base of Armagh. He courageously opposed druids and denounced those trading in slaves. To say that he single-handedly turned Ireland from a country of pagans to a nation of believers is an exaggeration but it is not far from the truth. In his later years he humbly declared, “Many thousands of people were reborn in God through me.”

Patrick’s effectiveness as an communicator was derived in part by his use of local images to illustrate eternal truths. For instance he would hold up a shamrock to convey the unity and three-fold richness of God as creator, saviour and spirit. He called people to a vibrant experience of God by daily putting on God as a soldier would put on a breastplate. This practical idea is found in the magnificent song that is traditionally attributed to Patrick:

“I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.”

In numerous verses Patrick calls others to begin the day by binding to themselves the many facets of God’s being:

“I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.”

We today might experience this same confidence by wrapping ourselves in the spirit of Christ through Patrick’s prayer:

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Show your appreciation for this Irishman by wearing something green on the 17th March. Sing his song. Spin his yarn when you’re given the chance. Pray Patrick’s prayer for yourself, his country and our world.

Geoff Pound

Image: Getting ready for the St. Patrick's Day parade in Houston, Texas.