Today we celebrate the feast of the great saint to Ireland, Patrick. Sadly, his feast day has been taken over by drunkenness and green beer, both of which he would have frowned upon. I have a great love for Irish music, and it saddens me that while I want to go to the local Irish pub and enjoy a nice Guinness while singing the songs I love so much, this is the day it is overrun by people with other goals, and who don’t know any of the lyrics to Four Green Fields.
Several years ago, this was the day that my diocese officially announced the suspension of Mass for the pandemic. Since I worked at the diocese, I knew the decree was happening, and I sought out an early morning Mass for the feast. As I knelt there, knowing this would be the last time I would receive Communion for quite some time, I had plenty of questions and concerns.
Most importantly, I questioned how I was going to persevere in holiness and the Christian life without the grace of the reception of Holy Communion. I already failed at Christian charity regularly. I knew how much I depended on the grace of the sacraments. What was I going to do?
I don’t know when I realized it, but later that morning I was reflecting on the life of Saint Patrick. I realized that Patrick‘s spiritual growth occurred when he was in captivity in Ireland. What does that mean? He had no access to the sacraments, and he still grew in holiness.
Patrick was born in Roman Britain, but in his early teenage years was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland. He worked there as a shepherd, suffering from hunger and the elements, until he was able to escape about six years later. These were the years that formed him spiritually. He wrote, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
You know what brought him close to the Lord? Private, daily prayer. Turning over his pain and suffering to the Lord. The Lord knew his situation. He knew Patrick’s heart. He wasn’t going to deny Patrick grace because the customary way of receiving that grace – the Mass – wasn’t available to him.
Suddenly, I knew I had been underestimating God. I had been pridefully deciding I knew what I needed. I was holding onto a very small vision of God and his grace.
It is not that Holy Communion and the Mass are not important. The Eucharist is the source of summit of our Faith. It brings us into intimate union with Christ.
But God knows our heart. He knows our situation. He knows our life.
So often, we make God very small. We think he can only work in certain ways or through certain people. Or perhaps I make other things into God: my plans and my opinions.
Have you found yourself thinking thoughts like: God can only work through holy priests. My family needs the a beautiful liturgy. I can only pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance. I need x,y,z to be holy.
Again, I’m not saying I don’t desire and crave these things myself! I’m not asserting that these things aren’t important. In fact, they are clearly the way God desires to work!
But He is not restricted to only working this way. He can use anything to bring us closer to him, if we are willing. For Patrick, he used captivity and suffering.
What God wants most of all from us is our docility and our obedience. He knows our situation. He knows our desires. But he asks that we turn everything over to him in trust. Maybe there will be periods when we don’t have access to the sacraments. Perhaps we face times of dryness and loneliness. Maybe there will be times when we have lots of questions and concerns about the Church and the liturgy. God sees us. He asks that we trust that he can work.
Are you ready to allow him to choose how he is going to work in your life?