Here’s the first in Phil’s series of meditations on what we can learn from the life and qualities of St. Patrick
MEDITATIONS ON THE LIFE OF SAINT PATRICK #1
Saint Patrick’s day was very strange this year. Coronavirus put paid to many of the usual activities although I did still manage a celebratory pint of the black stuff! To seek to address our missing of Saint Patrick’s Day I thought that it might be good to spend some time considering the life of our brother and see what we can learn from his example of life and faith.
Patrick left two letters and we will be considering his first the Confessio, confession or testimony. The letter is Patrick’s ‘testimony’ of how God has worked in and through him during his life. Any quotes from the Confession will be taken from a book by Thomas O’Loughlin called “Saint Patrick: The Man and His Works”, (Triangle SPCK, London 1999). When I quote from the Confession as it appears in O’Loughlin’s book I will supply the page and section number, for example P.52 S.1. If you would like to read Patrick’s Confession it can be accessed in a modern translation online at www.confessio.ie
My intention is to draw out examples of the life of discipleship from Patrick’s life and then develop these themes from Scripture.
Patrick wrote the Confession towards the end of his life, at this time he was bishop of the church in Ireland. Despite his churchmanship and high position Patrick remained a humble person ever mindful of where he had come from and the fact that where he now found himself was completely unmerited and due completely to God’s love and grace, Ephesians 2:1-10.
The Confession opens with these words, ‘I am the sinner Patrick…’ (P.52 S.1) Notice the tense, this bishop of the church wonderfully used by God declares the reality of his status, a sinner saved, sustained and preserved by grace. We can so easily fall back into sinful ways by giving way to the sinful nature which is controlled by our corrupt natural desires, Galatians 5:13-26, 1 Peter 2:11 and James 1:13-15, and influenced by the world and the devil Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 2:1-2. For this reason Paul writes ‘…let him who thinks he stands be careful lest he fall…’, 1 Corinthians 10:12 also Galatians 6:1. Fortunately God is able to make us stand, Romans 14:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11-13, but if we do fall there is forgiveness through Christ’s finished work, 1 John 1:5-2:6.
Later in his life at the time when Patrick was to be confirmed in his position within the church some sin from his youth was raised in an attempt to prevent his progress, ‘And when I was tested by some of my superiors who opposed my toilsome office of bishop with my sins…The charge they brought against me was something from thirty years earlier…’ (P.68+69 S.26+27) As Christians sometimes we can be haunted by a past sin or failing (even if we have sought forgiveness through confession and repentance), our enemy and accuser, the devil, certainly knows how to exploit such things bringing condemnation and spiritual paralysis. Patrick goes on to say that in reflecting on the sin of his youth (I paraphrase) ‘…the Lord had pardoned me and he is greater than all…’ (P.71 S.32) How wonderful! If we confess our sin and truly repent we are forgiven, nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is no condemnation. The apostle Peter discovered this wonderful reality when after having denied our Lord he was forgiven and restored, John 21. The sin which had the potential to destroy Peter was dealt with, his past failing could no longer hold him back.
In his youth Patrick had been brought up in a Christian home, both his father and grandfather were involved in ministry, yet Patrick did not turn to God, he describes himself as ‘not being a true believer’ (P.69 S.27), ‘ignorant of the true God’ (P.52 S.1). Despite his background Patrick remained dead in his trespasses and sins, separated from the life of God. But God had not finished with Patrick. Listen to Patrick’s own words, ‘…the Lord opened my understanding…I…turn(ed) with all my heart to the Lord my God…I was like a stone lying in the deepest mire; and then he who is mighty came and, in his mercy, raised me up…So I shout out and thank the Lord.’ (P.53 S2, P.59 S.12) Amen!
We are all sinners saved by grace. Our past has been forgiven. At times the enemy can try to use our past to condemn but if we are forgiven there is no condemnation. God calls us to progressively overcome our sinful nature and walk as Jesus walked, this is true discipleship. However we are still burdened by our sinfulness, it continues to attempt to subvert the indwelling Holy Spirit. We do fall into sin. But even then there is hope because there is still forgiveness if we confess and repent. Sin does not defeat us because Jesus defeated sin!