Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick and Slavery to Sin

(An earlier version of this throwback was first published 17 March 2015)

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deuteronomy 15:14-15)
     St. Patrick is, of course, the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t originally Irish.   He was Romano-British, probably born in what is now southern Scotland.  His first introduction to the Emerald Isle was as a slave, after he had been kidnapped as a youth by Irish raiders.  In his difficulties he came increasingly to rely on God, and he believed that God was calling him out of captivity.  He escaped and found his way home.  His faith life deepened, and after a time he concluded that he was being called back to save those who had enslaved him.  After ordination as a priest he returned to Ireland, where he successfully evangelized his former captors, and eventually became known as the Apostle of Ireland.

St Patrick baptizing former captors

     There is something profoundly Christian about St. Patrick’s story.  I am reminded, by way of contrast, of a story about the young Julius Caesar as told by the historian Suetonius.  When he was a young man, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates, who held him for ransom.  The buccaneers were charmed by the Roman aristocrat’s magnetic personality, and soon he was a participant, even a leader, in all their feasting and horseplay.  Suetonius relates that Caesar often smilingly told the pirates that, when he was ransomed, he would come back and crucify all of them, which apparently amused them quite a bit. As it turned out, Caesar wasn’t joking: after he was ransomed, he returned and brutally avenged himself on his abductors.
     St. Patrick came back as well, but in a spirit of love, not of vengeance, heeding the words of Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  He shows us in a very concrete way how the Wisdom of God is indeed different from the “wisdom” of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:19).

     We don’t need to be kidnapped or enslaved in a literal sense to see how the lesson of St. Patrick applies to ourselves.  Jesus Christ came to save us from slavery to sin.  Many serious Catholics that I know have spent a part of their life separated from Christ, living in that state of servitude.  Like St. Patrick, we are called to respond to that experience in love, and to try to bring others, even those who have wronged us, into the freedom of Christ.   That, rather than funny hats and green beer, is the true Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.

(See also "The Breastplate of St. Patrick: Still Relevant After 1500 Years")