This mission would be a great challenge. First getting there was dangerous and not very accessible. He would need to catch a ride on a boat going to a place that was visited less by merchants and more with the pirates and runaways. He was also a fugitive; if his old captures found him again there’s no telling what they’d do to punish him. And of course there was also the problem of language.
The Hibernian people had not been conquered or influenced by outsiders and so their language was oral and not written out. One of the greatest gifts Patrick gave to these people was the creation of a special alphabet; translating their sounds into words. After years of this tenuous work, Patrick was finally able to share the Good News with them in Gaelic...which is still spoken to this day.
As he was learning their language, Patrick taught them the gospel in a different way – by living in community with the people, working closely with them, building trust by becoming one of them. The only word he had to speak was: Love. Well actually, two words: God’s love.
Patrick understood what God’s love meant to him and he would risk everything he had to share it. His story speaks to the heart of another great saint, John the Evangelist, a.k.a. the one whom Jesus loved. In the 3 chapter of his first letter, John wrote this to the Christian churches.
John’s gospel is Jesus’ gospel. The good news of God’s love. As John reminds us, it’s one thing to love someone, but it’s another thing to love as confidently as Jesus did; laying down his life for us. Such confidence and love go hand in hand. If you know God’s love for you, then you can love God and love one others. Better yet, you can live confidently before God and before your fellow human beings; without fear of failure or worrying about what others might think or do. God’s love is bold with us. Which leads me to ask, “Is our love the same towards God? Do we boldly love others?”
As Jesus, John and Patrick all illustrated, love is more than a feeling. It’s an action. John writes: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” How do we do this? Are we to take a bullet for someone? I don’t think it has to be that complicated or dangerous. In fact, John said “If anyone sees a brother or sister in need, have pity and help them.” Love is bold, and daring, and risky. No one knows this better than Jesus. His story is nothing less than the perfection of God’s love made manifest.
I’m sure Patrick could have gone back as a zealous missionary with a savior complex. He could have used shame and guilt, or beaten the fear of God into the people until they submitted to his religious beliefs. But instead he took God’s words to heart and showed the people what the gospel is all about by embracing the living Christ and being Christ among them.
I know it’s important to tell people that God loves them. But words are not enough. As John put, “Don’t just talk about love; get out there and practice it.’ This is what it means to follow Jesus, to demonstrate your love in the same way that Jesus did. God calls us to act – especially towards the poor – by addressing poverty, injustice and violence that keep people from thriving in God’s Kingdom.
Let’s face it, even bigots and racists have words. But their actions often lead to the very things that God abhors. Our words must build bridges not walls, embrace peace not war, offer forgiveness and hospitality, hope and care to all people, especially the least of these.
God’s Love is the Gospel of Jesus. Made manifest in the Christ who would risk it all to give it to us. This is why it’s called the good news! When we see and do what Jesus did, then we too learn how to manifest God’s love and teach to others to do the same. Patrick knew that to live Christ is to live in community with others bearing God’s love as the source of healing for the community.
Patrick is a perfect example for us to have during Lent – showing us how we can make Christ alive in the world. As Richard Rohr wrote, “To live out Christ in the world is not to speak about Christ...but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart.” Lent is a time to search our heart deeply as we fast from the things that are keeping us from abiding in God’s commandment for us.
As I discover every year, there is a very good chance you are going to fail to uphold your Lenten fast. Everyone does. But each time we stumble is our reminder to feast; not of corn beef and cabbage, but on the love of God that has been poured out for you through Jesus Christ.
No one is perfect. But even in your imperfect love John reminds us that the Spirit is at work in your life. By seeing and doing what Jesus did, Patrick was able to open up his heart and showed the people what God’s love looks like. And we can do the same.
My challenge to you this week is simply to go out and be the gospel, sharing the good news of Christ Jesus – always ready to show mercy, grace and love to others as God has commanded. What does God command? John boils it down to this: Accept the divine love that comes in the name of Jesus Christ and to share that love with one another. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick than with corn beef, cabbage, soda bread, a wee dram of Jamesons...and sharing an endless feast of God’s love with everyone in the world.
Let us pray: Holy, Holy, Holy God…thank you for the love you gave to us through your Son, the Christ. Fill us with the same Spirit you gave to him so that we might be more like Jesus and less like ourselves. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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