One of the letters was addressed to Patrick himself, and it began with the words: 'The Voice of the Irish.' It said: 'We beg you, young man, come and walk among us once more.' So for thirty years Patrick labored in the Irish vineyard.
It's appropriate that we celebrate Laetare Sunday just a few days before Saint Patrick's day, for this day of joy in the midst of penance is a good time to recall the role of the passion and cross of Christ in the saint of the Emerald Isle.
When 1550 years ago, Patrick of Wales died in his beloved Ireland, it was after living a life filled with a passion for God: a passion so evident, that his very presence ignited a fire of faith which still burns, in good times and in troubles, on the Emerald Isle.
That passion was first ignited, ironically enough when he was taken as a sixteen-year-old slave. He experienced a solitary pasture, where he was forced to tend sheep, living in exile among a strange people in a strange and craggy land.
Yet, he reflects in his Confessions, those days of suffering, far from the comforts of home, were days in which God's love and his faith flourished. He writes of the lonely days he spent as a young shepherd: "Many times a day I prayed. The love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. I used to get up for prayer before daylight whatever the weather--snow, frost, rain-- without suffering any ill effects. The spirit within me grew fervent."
At one point, that passion led him to flee Ireland and attempt to return home. With the same unbounded determination I see in so many every day, he was undeterred by mere physical realities in this quest. If God (or at least his passions) wanted him to do it, no mountain or bog would remain unclimbed or uncrossed as he walked almost two hundred miles to get home.
He was a young man when he arrived home, overjoyed to be away from those troublesome Irish. He must have dreamt about that moment on endless star-lit nights in Irish pastures and longed for those who spoke his language, with whom he felt at home and among whom he had grown up for many years. Not so very different than those who come to these strange shores from great countries far away.
Yet no sooner did he return home than he had a dream in which a man named Victoricus came to him with a big stack of letters. This somnolent mailman was, scholars suggest, Victoricus, a saint of whom Patrick's father, an ordained and learned deacon himself, may often have spoken. Victoricus, we are told, was a vociferous advocate for missionary activity, especially to the dark and mysterious lands that lay north of Britain.
One of the letters was addressed to Patrick himself, and it began with the words: "The Voice of the Irish." It said: "We beg you, young man, come and walk among us once more."
So for thirty years Patrick labored in the Irish vineyard. Of his life preaching the Gospel he once wrote, "Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity. But I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself entirely into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere."
Take courage from the example of Saint Patrick, as you take comfort in his intercession and trust in his friendship.
MSGR. JAMES P. MORONEY IS RECTOR OF ST. JOHN'S SEMINARY IN BRIGHTON.
Msgr. James P. Moroney is Rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton.