Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven
St Patrick’s life was built on the conviction that the basis of preaching is found in the wonderful things God has done for us.
This homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
While there’s not much that we can say for sure about St Patrick, what we do know about is that he was probably of Romano-British origin. I think the Welsh claim him for Wales, and the Cornish claim him for Cornwall. But while we don’t know where he lived, we can be relatively sure that he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. It was during his time in slavery that he began to practice the Christian faith, while he was being put to work as a shepherd. The nature of his work left him a good deal of time for prayer and fasting, and his rather meagre slaves rations were turned into acts of penance and self-denial. After six years, when he was probably about 22 or 23, he began to receive visions, escaped his captivity and eventually returned to his family. He then went on to study for the priesthood, possibly in France, and returned to Ireland as a missionary to help others grow in the faith which he had received in that land during his slavery.
Patrick’s life, the little that we know about it, mostly comes from his Confession, and the opening paragraphs offer a reflection on the blessings which the Lord gave to Patrick in his life. ‘That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.’
Patrick’s motivation is one which it would be worth us keeping at the front of our mind in our own apostolic endeavours. Each of us is engaged, in ways great or small, in some apostolic work. Even if that doesn’t take on a formal expression in some particular assigned task, each of us, as religious who have made a public profession of vows, has the apostolate in some sense inscribed into our life through our profession. We are to be apostolic men.
That quotation from the beginning of his Confession interrogates our motivation for preaching. For all of us our motives for being here will be a little different, but the motive for our apostolate and preaching should be the same. Part of the answer is charity — our love for the people around us that God has given us to love. But Patrick’s words at the start of his Confession shift our focus to something much more basic. Our motivation for our preaching should be the wonders which God has done in our lives. The good things that God has given us. The consolations that he has given us in times of sorrows, the joys which his loving presence have sweetened.
The disciples in this Gospel reading are overjoyed that their ministry has had such success. Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! This is a remarkable thing. The Lord works through us to cast out evil. We have the power to tread under under foot the serpents and scorpions — the signs of wickedness and evil. The Lord’s own casting out of evil, his own defeat of Satan in his wilderness temptations, is a power that he now works in the world through us. But despite this there is a greater, deeper, and more basic joy, the joy that our names are written in heaven. At the heart of the lives of the saints is that basic joy, basic, not for its simplicity, but because it is the most fundamental. That joy at the wonders which God has done in his life is the reason why St Paul is able to say, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It made St Thomas able to say before the crucifix, Lord I want nothing but you. It is why St Teresa of Jesus tells us that the one who has God, finds they lack nothing; God alone suffices. It’s why Patrick understands it to be the very fount from which his preaching and mission sprang. It reminds us that at heart all we should want is God alone, and all that we do, is done for God alone.