Following the trail of Patrick

On March 17 I had the unique privilege of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. This “bucket list” trip was special and memorable for many reasons. I was always able to spend time in Northern Ireland following the Saint Patrick trail and learn more about the the man and missionary called Patrick. Much information and inspiring was discovered at the brand new Saint Patrick Center, the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and story of Saint Patrick. http://www.saintpatrickcentre.com/

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During my travels I visited a number of historic sites included Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where it is said Patrick baptized converts in a well in AD 450. IMG_4372

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saul Church, the site where Saint Patrick built the first Christian Church in Ireland in 432 AD.

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also his burial site in Downpatrick.

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It was a remarkable and memorable experience which I highly recommend if you have the opportunity to visit the island of the Irish.

My time and travels in Ireland provided me an opportunity and invitation to expand the horizons of the Christian faith as well as sounds, sights and spirits of this great culture. During my remaining few months living in Europe, I do hope to experience a few other new countries and cultures, as so much can be learned that help broaden and expand our minds, hearts and lives.

I leave you with these words from Patrick that serve well for us all as we enter into the Eastertide season celebrating Christ’s resurrection and presence with us!

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

 

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

 

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

 

Christ to comfort and restore me,

 

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

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Honoring the Virgin Mary

Today, December 8th, Catholics around the world celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Growing up, I always believed the Immaculate Conception to refer to the virgin birth of Jesus.  In order to be a spotless, blameless, and sinless sacrifice on humanity’s behalf, he had to be removed from the stain of original sin and therefore (out of theologically necessity) needed to not be biologically connected with Joseph (since all men transferred sin according to tradition).

However, Catholics take this notion one step further and believe that Mary was conceived without sin.  “Mary embodies all at once what God wills for his intelligent creation.  But there remains a difference between Mary and us. We are healed of the wounds of sin.  Mary never contracted them.  We suffer the aftereffects of sin. Mary rejoices in God her Savior.”  – Magnificat December 8th Advent Companion

Catholic tradition holds that, in order for Mary to be an acceptable “mother of God”, she needed to be free from sin at the time of Jesus’ birth and afterwards.

A common prayer is this “You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin to touch the Virgin Mary.  Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son.”

Mary serves as our “pattern of holiness” and the Annunciation (which was the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God.), becomes the culmination of her miraculous conception and special calling.

More to the point:  Catholics believe Mary was specifically called and chosen at conception to birth the Son of God and therefore was given extra grace to protect her from all sin.  She now intercedes on behalf of Christians for their purity and freedom from sin.

An interesting meditation from 1890 by John Henry Newman that shed even more light into the theology behind the immaculate conception is as follows:

“What is the highest, the rarest, the choicest prerogative of Mary?  It is that she was without sin.  When a woman in the crowd cried out to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee!” he answered, “More blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  Those words were fulfilled in Mary.  She was filled with grace in order to be the Mother of God. But it was a higher gift than her maternity to be thus sanctified and thus pure.  Our Lord indeed would not have become her son unless he had first sanctified her; but still, the greater blessedness was to have that perfect sanctification.”

I could list a whole hosts of prayers offered by Catholics to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to help them live a sinless life and so forth.

Growing up Protestant I always had a very negative view of Mary (or more specifically of how I believe Catholics worshiped her).

All of my friends would have to regularly recite the “Hail Mary” and I thought it was some sort of blasphemous prayer and borderline idolatry.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.


*Interesting to note, that the angel Gabriel offers those same praises to Mary upon his visit to her.

Her Magnificat (known also as Mary’s Song) found in Luke 1:46-55 is an amazingly profound, historical, and theological prayer…especially for a young Jewish girl!

Over the years, I have grown in deep appreciation and respect for Catholicism (the heritage, liturgy, saints, theology, authors, etc..) Living and serving in New York, many close friends and neighbors are committed Catholics and my friendship with them has shed much light.

I personally do not agree with everything they may or may hold doctrinally dear, nor follow all the practices, rites, and rituals, but I have gained much wisdom and insight.

One of them has been a newfound respect for Mary.

By venerating Mary (not worshipping), a few blessings and graces have occurred in my thinking and faith.

In the words of Brian McLaren, by honoring and celebrating Mary, “We come more fully to know who we are: simple humans, like Mary, called upon to bear Christ in our bodies, through our lives, to our world.”

I have realized, like Brian, just how impoverished my own Protestant faith and heritage is with its exclusively male focus.  The incarnation and immaculate conception (of Christ) is a mysterious and beautiful story that “magnifies” the value of women, erases the shame of Eve, makes visible the importance of spiritual receptivity, and celebrates the richness and feracity of humble, simple submission.

For full disclosure, unlike some of my Catholic friends, I do not pray to Mary or have statues of her, although I understand and appreciate now more than before why they do.

Afterall, it was the Spirit of God that testified through Gabriel, through Mary, and through Elizabeth that Mary was in fact highly favored; that the Lord was with her, she was blessed, and all generations will call her blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for her.

Though I do not worship her, I do however look to her as an amazing example of faith and honor her in my heart. I praise God for her obedience, example, faith, and miraculous life of being in the will of God.  I would imagine that Mary’s story and prayer echoed through the mind of her son, when he was at the cross and submitted to the will of God and, like his mother, prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May we all follow in the example of Mary and have the same obedience and faith this Advent season.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…opening our horizons

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Saint Patrick’s Day has become a huge cultural celebration that transcends religious beliefs and ethnic boundaries.  Hey, after all, everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s Day!

But it occurred to me that very few students knew the story behind the parade…the man called Patrick.  If you have never read or familiarized yourself with his life, I highly recommend it.  Once kidnapped in slavery at age 16 and brought from his home in England to the land of savages in Ireland, Patrick had visions from God that gave him strength and lead to his escape.

So inspired and moved by God once home, he felt compelled to return as a missionary to preach the gospel to a land that had never heard the message of Christ before.  The story continues and his writings are full of profound insights, theology, prayers, and confessions that challenge and inspire me deeply.   I have included at the end a hymn written by Patrick back around 430 AD.

Yet, very few Christians (especially Protestant) know his story.  Often we neglect to appreciate the deep and rich history of our faith and should admire courageous men like Patrick for their example, commitment to Christ,and ministry.

I for one was greatly misinformed about the rich history of our faith growing up, and personally was very prejudice against anything “Catholic” until I actual studied about the history of faith and theology while attending seminary.

While there are clearly some  injustices, heresies, and atrocities associated with Catholicism, the same is true in Protestant history.  While we acknowledge and repent of these, we should still be able to recognize and celebrate the many positives. There have been and are great missionaries (like Patrick) and great theologians in the past and present such as Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, Jerome, Justin Martyr, Francis of Assisi, Henry Nouwen, and Thomas a’ Kempis,whose book the Imitation of Christ is still regarded as one of the most influential Christian devotional books written).

My point is that only when I started to read and research and embrace the history of our faith, did I come to realize how God had clearly been working throughout the history of the church, well before the Reformation.

Patrick happens to be a great missionary, who God worked through to preach the gospel, perform  miracles, and reach an unreached people group for Jesus.
What the Catholic church has done to patronize him and how we celebrate his day, should not take away from the man himself and what God accomplished through his life of obedience, faith, and dependency upon the Holy Spirit.

I have come to learn much from the past and to embrace the practices of ancient Christianity (from the early church father to the mystics).  My faith has increased as a result.
Also, I am open to what the Spirit of God is doing here and now in our midst and am willing to give Him permission and freedom to work (even if it appears to be outside of my traditions or areas of comfort) God is much bigger than our rules, traditions, regulations, and even “sacredness” of the religion itself) That was the message of Jesus and unfortunately the pious religious leaders at the time did not embrace that message and killed Jesus for it.
Though they had good intentions, they missed what God was doing in their midst, and I for one, do not want to fall into that same category and judgment.”

We have much to learn and celebrate from the rich and diverse history of our faith. The traditions of past and present, while different from our own, provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith to increase.  Perhaps our small, tightly packaged box of beliefs and views can actually open up and expand to become a much larger, fuller, and deeper box.

This national “holiday” of sorts, Saint Patrick’s Day has given me an opportunity and invitation to expand the horizons of my students as we learn together to appreciate what God has been doing through his servants throughout the centuries. Of course, we can also expand our food and spirits horizons at your local Irish pub!

So, as you listen to U2 or The Cranberries (depending on your style) and drink some Guinness (depending on whether or not you are Baptist!), thank God for examples like Patrick, and may we all follow in his footsteps of a life of obedience, sacrifice, servant hood, piety, faith, prayer, and mission.

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(by the way, Patrick was not recognized as a “Saint” until decades later, did not drive out snakes since there were none in Ireland at the time, did not use the 3 leaf clover to describe the Trinity, and was basically kicked out of the priesthood for failure to submit to authority. He was however a great contextual theologian and missionary who reached an entire people for the Kingdom of God)

I bind unto myself today

The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,

By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;

His baptism in the Jordan River;

His death on cross for my salvation;

His bursting from the spicèd tomb;

His riding up the heavenly way;

His coming at the day of doom;

I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power

Of the great love of the Cherubim;

The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;

The service of the Seraphim,

Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,

The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,

All good deeds done unto the Lord,

And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today

The virtues of the starlit heaven,

The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

The whiteness of the moon at even,

The flashing of the lightning free,

The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

The stable earth, the deep salt sea,

Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today

The power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, His might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, his shield to ward,

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,

The vice that gives temptation force,

The natural lusts that war within,

The hostile men that mar my course;

Or few or many, far or nigh,

In every place and in all hours

Against their fierce hostility,

I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,

Against false words of heresy,

Against the knowledge that defiles,

Against the heart’s idolatry,

Against the wizard’s evil craft,

Against the death-wound and the burning

The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,

Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,

The strong name of the Trinity;

By invocation of the same.

The Three in One, and One in Three,

Of whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

salvation is of Christ the Lord.