St. Patrick: Peacemaker

March 17, 2024
Stained Glass window of St. Patrick, Oakland, CA.
St. Patrick, stained-glass window in the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, California.
A sermon delivered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland, 2008

There is a joke going around Dublin these days that claims St. Patrick made a mistake when he drove the snakes out of Ireland – It should have been the lawyers. An interesting observation in that the Saint himself functioned at times as a lawyer, or Brehon. In fact, history tells us that Patrick was one of the three “Bishops” who codified the Oral Law into what we now know as Brehon Law.

Be that as it may, we all know of the story of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, but do we know about St. Patrick, the Peacemaker?

From Patrick’s Confession:

“There were many who tried to prevent my mission, saying behind my back, ‘What is this fellow up to, talking to God’s enemies?’ … I have done my best always to be honest and peaceful with Christians and pagans alike … I have spent whatever money I possessed for the benefit of the poor … I have given presents to kings and persuaded them to release slaves … I and my companions have at times been arrested and put in irons, our captors ready to kill us, yet the Lord has always set us free (without violence) … Every day I expect to be killed or reduced to slavery, yet I am frightened by none of these things, because my heart is set [at peace] with God.”

Reading between the lines of the writings of Patrick, and those about him, we see that peacemaking for Patrick had five aspects:<

1. Peacemaking between people:

Peacemaking between people means making peace with those who have abused and misuded you.

I am sure you remember that as a boy Patrick was taken captive as a slave by the Irish.
According to his "Confession," I saw, in a vision in the night, a man[Nota] whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea[Nota]. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for(23.). Peacemaking between people also includes avoiding conflict when it is brought to us. We see this in poetic legend, “The Deer’s Cry,” when to avoid conflict Patrick flees in the guise of a deer.

It is said that the Saint led his followers through the woods away from the enemy as they recited this lorica (prayer for protection), or as legend puts it, fleeing in the guise of a deer. To those pursuing Patrick the lorica sounded like the cry of a deer.

I arise today through the strength of heaven
Light of sun, radiance of moon
Splendor of fire, speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind, depth of the sea
Stability of earth, firmness of rock

I arise today through God's strength to pilot me
God's eye to look before me
God's wisdom to guide me
God's way to lie before me
God's shield to protect me

From all who shall wish me ill
Afar and a-near
Alone and in a multitude
Against every cruel, merciless power
That may oppose my body and soul

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 sit down
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me

I arise today

- "The Deer's Cry" ("St. Patrick's Breastplate")

Note the last two phrases above the last, "I arise today."

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me

Even fleeing Patrick wishes that everyone, even his enemies, would see and speak Christ, that is, the "Peace of Christ", through Patrick's living in peace before them.

In Irish legend there is the delightful story of Patrick tending to Oisin after when he returned to Ireland from Tir Na Nog ("The Land of Youth"). Before choosing to live in Tir Na Nog, Oison was told if he ever returned to Ireland his age would catch up with him and he would immediately get old. Patrick discovered him suffering in old age and took him into his monastery. Here they had vigorous discussions about the nature of the Christian God, always disagreeing. The story of Oisin and the discussion between the two is for another time. What is significant for us, is that although Patrick and Oisin fervently disagreed they were able to live together in peace and with respect for the other. Patrick, according to the tale, cared for Oisin to his dying day.

In his Confessions, Patrick quotes Matthew 8:11, "They will come from the east and from the west, and they will lie down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (39.)" Peacemaking between people also includes, “with our ancestors." In the Celtic cosmos, our ancestors still walk with us, continue to be present in our lives, even to the point at times of the presence being recognizable. Not ghosts, but because the two-worlds are en-fused with each other. At times the en-fusion seems to dissolve and both become one.

2. Peacemaking between people and Creation:

For my shield this day I call: Heaven’s might, Sun’s brightness, Moon’s whiteness, Fire’s glory, Lighting’s swiftness, Wind’s wildness, Ocean’s depth, Earth’s solidity, Rock’s immobility.

3. Peacemaking between the creatures of Creation (which includes the angels)

In "The Confessions," Patrick draws up the scripture quoting, Mark 16:15-16, part of which goes, "Go out therefore to the whole world and announce the gospel to every creature." Note the word "creature." 4. Making peace with our selves (internal peacemaking)

Returning to Patrick's "calling," They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.

In the next paragraph of the Confession we read: Another night – I do not know, God knows, whether it was within me or beside me[Nota] – I heard authoritative words which I could hear but not understand, until at the end of the speech it became clear: “The one who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you”; and I awoke full of joy (24.).

The little phrase, "I woke up, twice used, refers to more than just waking up. Patrick arrived at peace with himself and knew what he was to do.

Although Patrick had a clear vision, often making peace with our self is simply to say, "I don't know," and rest in it and God.

5. Making peace with God.

I should make return for all that he returns me. But what should I say, or what should I promise to my Lord, for I, alone, can do nothing unless he himself vouchsafe it to me. But let him search my heart and [my] nature, for I crave enough for it, even too much, and I am ready for him to grant me that I drink of his chalice, as he has granted to others who love him.
- The Confession of St. Patrick

For Patrick the last two were inseparable and the most important, for if we don’t have internal peace we cannot be peacemakers. [Excerpted from a sermon delivered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland, 2008.

© Frank A. Mills
March 17, 2024