Homily: St Patrick’s Day
Sunday 17 March 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Let me ask you a question, what makes someone a saint? It’s a worthwhile question to ask on this feast day of one of the great saints, Patrick. What makes someone a saint.
We may offer a fairly standard response along the lines of a saint is a holy person. But that doesn’t really get us much closer to an answer that actually means something, because we then need to work out what holiness is. A holy person? A saintly person? These are words we know how to use, but they don’t offer us much clarity of meaning.
So, might I offer you a bit of a definition, and show how St Patrick fits the mould. There are three parts to my definition. The first is this: a saint is a sinner who has been found by God the Father. That’s right, saintliness does not start with us, but with God. Our heavenly Father goes looking for us fallen humans, to invite us, each personally, to be a part of his divine life. Saintliness starts with an invitation from God.
The second part of the definition is this: a saint is someone who is growing in friendship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Once we have been found by God, he wants to continue that relationship in friendship. Friendship is the most human of relationships, therefore it is appropriate that this is with Jesus Christ, God in our human nature. Saintliness involves an ongoing friendship with Jesus.
The third and final part of the definition of a saint is this: a saint is someone sent by God, the Holy Spirit to share that relationship with others. That’s right, saintliness focuses us outwards, towards others, wanting to share what we have received. We want to tell others of our friendship. The Holy Spirit of God encourages us to do this.
So, there’s my quick definition of a saint: it is a sinner, found by the Father, befriended by the Son, and sent by the Holy Spirit. Our capital ‘S’ saints are simply those whom we recognise as having lived their lives according to this definition. But we, too, are saints (with a ‘small ‘s’) as we live our lives according to this pattern of chosen, befriended, sent.
This is the pattern of St Patrick’s life. We can tend to rely on the fables and stories about Patrick to paint a picture of him. The miraculous Patrick who founded Christian Ireland; used a shamrock to convert a people; and banished all the snakes. But the real Patrick is more.
Historians tell us that he was a Roman Britain, who first encountered Christianity as a slave in Ireland. That is where God first found him. But Patrick’s friendship with Jesus grew in Europe, having taken up studies in the faith and growing in missionary zeal after he escaped slavery. It wasn’t until 432 that Patrick was sent back to Ireland as a bishop, where he went about planting seeds of faith and drawing people together into communities of grace. These communities then became the Gospel leaven that gave rise to a Christian society.
We might therefore describe Patrick as a man of deep faith and missionary discipleship, sent to a foreign people to plant the Gospel of Jesus Christ among them, to bring fresh heart to existing local Churches, and to sow seeds of faith within the wider non-Christian society. But most particular, Patrick was a saint: chosen, befriended and sent.
On this St Patrick’s Day, may we follow in the saintly way of our Patron.