A second St. Patrick’s Day in a row in lockdown. Hard to believe. And hard to live. There’s no need here for me to rehearse in detail what we’ve been through and what we are going through. So many have experienced isolation, exhaustion and stress, fear and anxiety, worries about health and work, disrupted timetables for young and old, and not least, distressing farewells to loved ones.
On this St. Patrick’s Day we can take some comfort in knowing Patrick experienced isolation, a world turned upside down, fears and stress, distance from loved ones. Locked in a slave trade minding sheep for six years, far from family and friends. When eventually he was freed he ended up feeling called to come back and embark on a mission he could never have imagined, travelling the four corners of Ireland with a Good News story that was great but all he while he knew only too well how fragile he was, how limited in competencies, how great a sinner he was, how much he would need to trust more. But in humility he simply decided to let God lead him day by day, and God wove a wonderful tapestry out of all the bits and pieces of his life.
So let’s allow ourselves hear three words from his writings which are the first pieces of literature we have in Ireland.
He relied on God’s strength and prayed that God’s strength would “pilot us”. It’s a good image. A pilot is someone qualified to steer a ship or fly an aircraft. They know what they’re doing. They point in the right direction. They get you to the destination. God’s strength might be another way for St. Patrick to say the Holy Spirit. We know he had a great love for the Holy Spirit. He called the Spirit, the gift of God. St. Patrick invites us to be friends of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit pilot our lives, show us what to do, take the necessary steps at this step of Coronavirus. So there’s an invitation to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking inside us.
A second word from St. Patrick is: “strive to do bigger and better things” (Conf. 47). Patrick understood God is generous. God has placed in our lives great potential that he wants us to develop day by day. Patrick kept going outside himself to others in mission even when there were adversities. Perhaps at times we feel limited in what we can do with all the restrictions. Still, every day is a chance to improve a little more in love of God and love of our neighbour. I was talking to an elderly person recently and they said to me: “I need to trust and hope more”. That struck me. We all have areas we can do bigger and better. Yes, trust, hope, pray, reach out…
A third word from St. Patrick, one that might surprise is the opening word of St. Patrick’s “Confession”. He writes, “I am Patrick, a sinner”. We think of one of the very first interviews with Pope Francis when he was asked “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?”. The Pope thought for a moment and then simply answer “I am a sinner” and then went on to speak of mercy. St. Patrick too was a realist. He acknowledged his situation. But in humility turned to God who is full of mercy. He didn’t allow himself wallow in his sinfulness or misery or self-pity. No, in recognising how God forgives us, Patrick hands over his sin to God’s mercy, believes in God’s grace and so knows we can always start again in living a Christian life, every day starting again to love, communicate, serve. For Patrick “I am a sinner” and “start again always” go together.
So three words that might help banish any snakes of despondency or feeling out of sorts this St. Patrick’s Day: let the Holy Spirit, the strength of God, be the “pilot” of your soul; “strive to do bigger and better” every day and finally hand over any sense of sinfulness to God’s mercy and start again every day.