Liturgically, on this day we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent. Culturally, however, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Whatever the world may make of St. Patrick’s Day, before all else, it is a memorial to the great Apostle, Patrick of Ireland. Of course, he wasn’t born in Ireland, but most likely in that part of the world which today we call Wales. From there he was forcibly kidnapped.
As a child growing up I remember the amazement I felt when reading of Patrick’s being kidnapped from his home and his family as a young boy, of his being taken into captivity and being sold into slavery. I remember appreciating the safety of family and of home, and the security that was enjoyed by me, but which was violently stolen from Patrick when he was my own age. I remember looking at the broad shoulders of my father one day as he was working about the family home, content to know that he would do anything to keep me safe as I grew. Mine was a childhood unlike that of Patrick.
Today we would accurately say that he was kidnapped and trafficked. The raiders who attacked his family and who took him from them did so because they felt it was perfectly acceptable to buy and sell human flesh. Their wealth depended on their strength and ability to take what they wanted from those who couldn’t defend themselves. History has always known a time when base and brutal humanity was content to violate the dignity and goodness of the human person.
But into that history comes the God who calls for a different way of relating with one another. We are summoned by the very word of God to think beyond our own categories of right and wrong, of politics and of acceptability. We are summoned to respond to the word of GOD, and not to some political manifesto or socio-philosophical agenda. The Apostle, Paul, reminds us: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.” (Rom 10:12) For the Christian, our primary distinctions are not political or nationalist or philosophical. In the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we don’t deny the complexity of the challenges that confront us but we can never, ever, turn our backs on those who are in need, our brothers and sisters in faith - God’s children all - whatever their language, their creed or nationality.
In his “Confession,” Patrick admits to his initial hatred for the Irish. But if Patrick had turned his back on the people of those who had ripped him from his home and family, it’s no exaggeration to say that many of us might simply not be here in church today. The arc of history is imbued with the grace of God that saw the slave Patrick grow to become a man who placed his life in faith-filled, apostolic service of the very people he once hated in his heart for the harm they visited upon him. His zeal indelibly marked the lives of the people he came to love instead of hate, and his witness propelled them across continents in a great missionary movement that has touched every corner of the globe. Our forebears in the faith prayed in the Philippines, in Korea, and in Nigeria. They grew in their faith in Europe, in South America, and in Africa. Remote indeed is the place that has not been kissed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and the believer’s response to it. Patrick’s own conversion - his transformation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ - stands before us today as a challenge to allow our own hearts to be touched, to be converted and to be transformed.
As for Patrick, and for his conversion of heart and mind in his own time, so for us in our age, in our moment of God’s history. We are called to be a people who trust in the promise of the Lord God to deliver us and to lift us up. We are a people who proudly trust the grace of God empowering us to witness to the ends of the earth our faith in Jesus Christ and the life of compassion he lived for us. We are a people who take up the challenge and the responsibility of preaching everywhere with the witness of our lives all that the Lord has done for us and all that we are called to do for the Lord. As our Lent unfolds, we pray for the grace and the courage to live more deeply into our Christianity, and to grow in our discipleship of Jesus.