by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 17.03.2022
Today is the Feast of Saint Patrick, a great missionary of the 5th Century. In some sense, having always grown up with “Saint Patrick” in our lives, we tend to take him for granted. But recently I have been turning to Patrick and looking at him as a young man, called to transmit God’s love to a people who were not at all interested. How did he do it?
Patrick was the victim of human trafficking. It is not a modern phenomenon. Isn’t it hard to believe that there are actually more people being trafficked now in the world than in the “days of slavery”? The first thing that Patrick did was to learn from his suffering. He learned to endure, to dream of a better world and then set about realising his dream. He returned to the place of his captivity, planning to open eyes and hearts to a brighter future. He knew from first hand experience the exploitation of the vulnerable by the rich and powerful. In this sense, he really is a saint for our modern times.
The second thing that Patrick did as a missionary, on his return to Ireland, was to enculturate. He really got to know his people, to understand their beliefs and cultures. He did not reject them; he gave them new meaning. Two examples of this are the shamrock, a simple wild plant he would have known from his goat-herding days and the pascal fire on the hill of Tara. All the local chieftains were building bonfires too, but Patrick’s said “Yes, but this one is to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.” During my own missionary days in another culture, did I strive to understand the Brazilian culture, or did I just lazily do things “my way”?
The third thing that Patrick (and his followers) did was to develop their own spirituality – Celtic spirituality takes its roots from the land, from the hills, rivers and bogs of Ireland. It is a spirituality closely tied to the hearth, the home and the ordinariness of life. It is an eco-spirituality long before we knew the word. No wonder it talks to the young people of Ireland these days when the official Church seems distant and irrelevant.
So today I celebrate Patrick and thank God for his life and his example.