No, it’s not a typo. No the computer isn’t on the fritz. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! In the Gaelic tongue. Friends of mine who are soon to depart for Ireland sent me this message Friday. Saint Patrick is perhaps one of my favorite “Fathers in the faith.”
A few years ago, I reflected on how Patrick’s mission informs us in chaplaincy. More recently, though, I have been reflecting on how difficult it may have been for Patrick to go back. To go back to a place of hardship and suffering. To go back to a place that was away from home — it’s comforts and familiarity. To go back to a place where he was abused and mistreated as a slave. To go back where he faced opposition and danger.
The difficult work of chaplains, especially chaplains in sport, is that we often have a call similar to Saint Patrick. Ask a mature Christian who has played or coached or worked in the professional sports environment — generally, it is not a culture that is very receptive to religion and especially the Christian faith. Sport and faith are often felt in tension to one another. But Patrick was called to go back — in spite of the tension that he must have felt.
Saint Patrick, as the story is told, had a heart that was burdened for the people of Ireland. Their love and worship of much of nature through Druidic rituals and rites was a source of darkness and blindness for the people. They were held captive by their false beliefs in the spirits and sprites that they thought inhabited all natural things around them. Patrick, though, was able to help them to see a better way through his tireless work and presence among them.
Saint Patrick used the clover to teach about the Trinitarian nature of God. Patrick and his band of disciples would bless the woods to bring forth game. They would bless the rivers and streams to bring forth fish. They would bless the fields to bring forth a harvest. As is the case with many of the early Christians, they are details that are veiled in tradition and legend. We cannot know for certain the extent and influence of Patrick’s ministry in Ireland.
However, we can learn from his life and example — that God calls us to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, to go the extra mile in servitude to a people who are oppressive. In these ways, Christians everywhere share the call of Saint Patrick and are no different from him.
Where have we faced enemies and people who hate us? Maybe in a work place? In our school? In our neighborhood? Maybe we have enemies from places like Facebook or other arenas in our digital age? What does it look like to go back? What does it look like to love? To serve? To be burdened with a heart that wants to see those living and wandering in darkness to see a light dawning?
Blessings on your going back like Saint Patrick or it might be said, beannaigh tú ag dul ar ais.