Bishop Olmsted’s Homily on the Feast of St. Patrick

March 17, 2019 | Homily from the 10:30 am Mass

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted 

       At birth, my father was given the name Dale Willey. It wasn’t a name he liked. So, at the age of 20, when he decided to become a Catholic and be baptized, he seized the opportunity to take a new name: Patrick. Several months later, he proposed marriage to my mother who is 100% Irish.     As you might guess, my family loves St. Patrick. Being baptized in a small church in Nebraska, where the pastor was straight from Ireland, we were delighted that on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it was Lent, Father Daly replaced the purple vestments with green. Last night, when I called my mother to let her know I was coming to St. Patrick’s Parish, she also thought it was a great place to celebrate this great Irish saint. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with you in this 50th Year of the Diocese of Phoenix.

It seems fitting that the Gospel today recounts the Transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Peter, James and John. What Jesus provided for the three Apostles, He also provided to St. Patrick, 500 years later. Born and raised in England, during his teen years, Patrick was kidnapped and sold as a slave to a Chieftain in Ireland. Brutally separated from family, friends, familiar food and language, compelled to labor in squalor and treated like dirt, Patrick barely survived until, six years later, he managed to escape and return to England. What happened upon his arrival and over the course of the next decade of his life remains largely unknown, except that he eventually became a monk, was ordained a priest and asked his superiors to be sent back to Ireland, to bring the Good News of Christ to the people who had treated him so harshly and were most likely to do so again. We don’t know what happened in Patrick’s soul; why he wanted to return to Ireland–not to seek revenge but to bring them the Gospel of Christ. He must have experienced something like what Peter, James and John discovered at the Transfiguration: in the face of terrible suffering, he found the love of Christ; in all that he had endured he found more than meaningless brutality. Christ was at work in that suffering, not only giving him courage to endure but also preparing Patrick for a mission to the same people who treated him so badly.

In parallel fashion, consider what happened to the three Apostles during the mystery of the Transfiguration. Eight days before the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, He did something that left the Apostles discouraged and near despair. Jesus told them that He was going to be betrayed, scourged and crucified, and on the third day, rise again. He also told them, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  They could not imagine how death by crucifixion could possibly be good news. So, “Jesus took Peter, James, and John and went up the mountain to pray…” there, He was transfigured before them” (Luke 9:28ff). Jesus led them beyond agony into the mystery of God. On a mountain top, He gave them a glimpse into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity. The voice of God the Father was heard speaking of His Son Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” And the Spirit was present in the form of a cloud. Here is the most profound of all mysteries; God who is a communion of three divine Persons united in life and love.

There is nothing more glorious than the Blessed Trinity, nothing more wondrous than the Love that constantly flows from the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, constantly creating and restoring life, even overcoming death by suffering death.  Through the Father’s gift of the Son, and the Son’s and Father’s gift of the Spirit, we learn that the dynamic of God’s relationships with each person is always self-gift. Because we are made in God’s image, we can receive His love and can give this love in turn by making a sincere gift of self. This may explain why St. Patrick was so enthralled by the shamrock; seeing in the one plant with three leaves a symbol of the Blessed Trinity. Wherever he came upon a shamrock, Patrick was reminded of God’s unending love and moved to strive always to make a gift of self for love of others.

Dear brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in Christ, think of when you have suffered injustice or passed through terrible sorrow. Did you see it, in the beginning, as totally meaningless? Did you come to see it as a moment of grace?

After Patrick escaped the cruel slavery of Ireland, God’s love opened his heart in a new way. Instead of harboring revenge for his former slave-holders, Patrick came to a keen sense of his own sinfulness, combined with a deep trust in God’s merciful love. The Lord opened his eyes to see the spiritual poverty of his Irish slave holders, i.e. that they had never heard of Jesus and His Gospel. No one had witnessed to them the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

In this way, Christ called Patrick to return to Ireland to bring them the Good News of God’s Triune love. Patrick made his own the words of Psalm 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”            What followed is one of the greatest missionary successes: Over the next 30+ years, Patrick walked the green fields and rocky hills of Ireland, using the shamrock to teach them of the Blessed Trinity, and using the Cross to open hearts to Christ. Through the witness of St. Patrick, and God’s amazing grace, the emerald isle became Catholic in half a century. In his own lifetime, dioceses and monasteries were established, marriage and family life flourished; religious life and consecrated virginity blossomed, and many young men were ordained priests, not only to serve Christ in Ireland but even far beyond.

While many legends about this saint abound, making it hard to establish fact from fiction, most scholars agree that a document called the Confessions of St. Patrick is authentic. Like the Confessions of St. Augustine, it offers faith-filled thanksgiving and praise to the Blessed Trinity for the privilege of suffering for Christ’s Name.

The priestly heart of St. Patrick was filled with awe and wonder at the Trinitarian nature of God: how total gift of self is the constant dynamic of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  In addition, Patrick composed a famous prayer known as THE BREASTPLATE OF ST. PATRICK  I shall conclude with that prayer:

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.       

I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension…Christ to shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”