Tuesday, 17 March 2020

10 lessons to learn
from Saint Patrick in
these troubled days

Saint Patrick … an icon received as a present in Crete and now in the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Saint Patrick’s Day,

11 a.m.: The Festal Eucharist,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.


Readings: Tobit 13: 1b-7; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; John 4: 31-38.

Saint Patrick depicted in a window in Saint Patrick’s Church, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Preaching on Saint Patrick’s Day is always a challenge, because of many of us think we know the story of Saint Patrick, while others think this just a day of national festivity, where anything goes, as long as it’s dressed up in green.

Personally, I was saddened last week when the organisers, the Dublin Council of Churches, decided to cancel the ecumenical service for Saint Patrick’s Day in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. I had been invited to preach and I felt it was a such a privilege to preach on my name day, on Saint Patrick’s Day, about Saint Patrick, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Little did I realise when that was cancelled, how much more was going to be cancelled, and how quickly we were going to slide into the present escalating crisis about the Covid-19 pandemic.

But even before today’s parades and programmes were cancelled and the pubs were closed, one official guide to celebrating the day listed concerts, parades, venues, music, comedy … you name it – but did not mention one church service celebrating Saint Patrick himself, his mission and his witness.

An additional difficulty in preparing to preach on this day is posed this year because the Gospel reading for Saint Patrick’s Day (John 4: 31-38), which is the same each year, is also portion of the Gospel reading last Sunday, the Third Sunday in Lent (Lent III, 15 March 2020, John 4: 5-42).

So what do we have to say today about Saint Patrick that is truly relevant to the great challenges we are facing in Ireland today?

To be brief, I have just ten short points to make about Saint Patrick that I think are relevant in a special way this year:

1, Saint Patrick banishes fear from the land, not in his own name, but in the name of God: in those days that fear was embodied in snakes, today it may be Covid-19. Sometimes living with fear is greater than living with the threat. Let us pray, like Saint Patrick, that we can banish all fears from our lives, that we may deal with present threats with faith, and that we can find the inner resources to remain calm.

2, Saint Patrick connects us with our nearest neighbours. He is born on the neighbouring island, probably in what is now central or north-west England. Whatever happens in the wake of ‘Brexit,’ like Saint Patrick we must never allow prejudice or political difference to distance us from our neighbours: it makes sense that our nearest neighbours must be our closest and best friends.

3, Saint Patrick is an international figure. I am not referring to parades in New York or lighting up the Sydney Opera House in green. But he travels freely between Ireland, England, and continental Europe. The present Covid-19 crisis shows us that islands are never really cut off from anywhere else. We need to continue to respond with compassion and action to the needs of our neighbours across Europe in the present crisis.

4, Saint Patrick is a figure that reminds us to speak out for people who are refugees, migrants, or the victims of people-trafficking. Some of the prejudicial responses I hear in Ireland would have sent Patrick back to where he was from … and where would we be today?

5, Saint Patrick had an open, engaging reaction to the women in his life, so open that it scandalised his opponents and critics. It is an image that inspired a stained-glass windows in our neighbours’ church, Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic parish church in Askeaton. Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, died a few days ago. May the voices of women and men in the Church be heard with equality and generosity in the Church today.

6, Saint Patrick is a figure of unity in the Church in Ireland. He was not the first missionary in Ireland, not even the first bishop. But his specific mission was to unite the Church of the day in Ireland. As the efforts to bring about full, visible unity in the church lose steam these days, let us work to explore new ways of expressing the unity that Body of Christ must live with.

7, Saint Patrick is seen, long after his own lifespan, as bringing the Church in Ireland together symbolically through the See of Armagh. The new Archbishop of Armagh, Bishop John McDowell, was the bishop who visited this group of parishes when the bishops of the Church of Ireland were visiting these dioceses late last year. He asked particularly to see the work with Travellers in Rathkeale, but I also worked closely with him in the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). Let us pray this day that as Archbishop of Armagh he may be a worthy successor to Saint Patrick.

8, Saint Patrick constantly points us to the Christian faith. As we don the shamrock today, let us remember Saint Patrick’s faith, and own it as our own.

9, Saint Patrick’s mission is marked by love, shown in his concern for the outcast, the outsider, the slave, the trafficked, the marginalised. As we don the shamrock today, let us make Saint Patrick’s example a model for our own values.

10, Saint Patrick lived in hope, and offered hope. In these difficult days, as we don the shamrock, let us live in hope, for the present days, and in the hope of eternal life in Christ.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The reliquary made for relics of Saint Patrick, now in the Hunt Museum, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 4: 31-38 (NRSVA):

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33 So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

Saint Patrick with mitre, crozier, Bible and shamrock on the side of the chapel in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White (please note that Green is not the Liturgical Colour for Saint Patrick’s Day).

Penitential Kyries:

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who trust in him.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Lord ransoms the lives of his servants
and none who trust in him will be destroyed.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Come my children, listen to me:
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
in your providence you chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of your Word:
Grant that walking in that light
we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace to all who are yours (I Samuel 25: 6).

Preface:

To this land you sent the glorious gospel
through the preaching of Patrick.
You caused it to grow and flourish in the life of your servant Patrick and in
the lives of men and women, filled with your Holy Spirit,
building up your Church to send forth the good news to other places:

Post Communion Prayer:

Hear us, most merciful God,
for that part of the Church
which through your servant Patrick you planted in our land;
that it may hold fast the faith entrusted to the saints
and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

God, who in days of old gave to this land the benediction of his holy Church,
fill you with his grace to walk faithfully in the steps of the saints
and to bring forth fruit to his glory:

Saint Patrick alongside Saint Cuthbert, Saint Finbar and Saint Laurence O’Toole in the stained glass windows in the baptistery in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Hymns:

459: For all the saints, who from their labours rest (CD 27)
611: Christ be beside me (CD 35)
322: I bind unto myself today (CD supplied)

Saint Patrick in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

A fading statue of Saint Patrick in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s Church, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This sermon was prepared for Saint Patrick’s Day 2020, and was read in the closed church in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

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