Canon Pat Browne gave this homily for St Patrick's Day at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, central London this morning.
HAPPY ST PATRICK'S DAY - Lá Fhéile Pádraig!
Who would ever have imagined a St Patrick's day - in Ireland, in all our major cities - without the parades, the pint, the pub, the parties; the embracing and the comradeship of all nationalities coming together to celebrate this feast.
Instead, we are being asked to isolate ourselves from each other, not to touch, and to avoid places where people might gather. Certainly something of human value is lost.
But certainly too there is opportunity for something to be gained. Finding ourselves alone, there is time to reflect and focus in this feast on the person of Patrick himself and to get to know him deeper and to find similarities in our lives and his.
He too was sent into isolation. He suffered the hardships of it. But he also discovered within it, his God and eventually through that, a deep love for the people who had forced him into this situation.
We often forget that the patron saint of Ireland was not Irish. He was born on this island and he was carried off to Ireland as a slave when some pirates attacked his home.
Much of his captivity in slavery he spent in isolation away from the security of everything and everybody who was familiar to him.
He turned to his faith to console him in the midst of loneliness and fear as he looked after sheep on cold, wintry, windy dark nights. He chose to surround himself with God. And that is where we get that hymn we sang at the beginning of this Mass. When he felt totally alone he imagined himself surrounded, enveloped, inhabited by God and prayed
Christ be beside me, Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me,
Christ be above me, never to part.
We can do the same.
Eventually he managed to escape and to return home to his birth family in Britain. He was a man of deep Faith. He became a priest, like his father was before him and eventually a bishop. He felt the urge to return to Ireland as a missionary. His prayer life had led him to accept that Ireland was his home and it was to those people he should minister.
What will our time of isolation teach us?
Certainly there will be times of loneliness, of anger, of fear, of vulnerability.
This is to be expected. But rather than wallow in this and go in on ourselves, there is an opportunity too to find new ways to reach out to other people in the same situation and discover we are not alone, God is with us and waiting there for us.
There is nowhere we can be put in this life, that we will not find God already there waiting for us to support us, to love us and give us his strength.
This was Patrick's experience.
Today at 12 o'clock at Downpatrick where the saint is buried they prayed for his intercession focussing on the second verse of that same hymn which describes Christ as the Shield in our strife
Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in the strife.
May Patrick by his intercession be the shield in our strife as we, one united human community face this virus and seek to overcome it.
There is a second lesson we can learn from Patrick.
Patrick went to his new country first taken by force; but the second time he went voluntarily. He made those people his own and he gave and he received. He gave to them is faith and received from them the richness of their traditions and culture.
Today here in this country many of us have arrived in a similar way. Many came because they had to, as economic migrants. Some went home when they could. But many of them came back again voluntarily. Most stayed here and a moment arrived in their lives when they knew they were here because they wanted to be here and not because they had to be here
With a world that is forever dividing itself up and locking people out, Patrick was about becoming one with others - some very unlike himself - and creating community - uniting and welcoming people in, into the family of God's Church. No one was to be excluded.
We draw from the story of St Patrick as a source of strength, wisdom, perseverance and love.
Fr Pat is Parish Priest at Holy Apostles church, Pimlico and Roman Catholic Duty Priest in the Houses of Parliament.
Watch live and recorded services at Holy Apostles on their webcam here: www.churchservices.tv/pimlico
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