Copyright
John McQuirk.

Sermons and discourses (Volume 3) online

. (page 25 of 43)
Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 25 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to begin those labors that will probably end in his
martyrdom.

Picture Patrick at length standing upon the island
surrounded by a few friends. What is he about to
do? To preach the Gospel. To whom? To a na-
tion sunk in superstition, to a nation with a fixed
form of religion, with an established priesthood
proud of its traditions and jealous of the power it
exercised upon the people; a people devotedly at-
tached, blindly zealous for its impious worship; a
people that had already rejected the Gospel, — for
we must remember that Palladius had already at-
tempted to make the Gospel known to the Irish, but
so fierce and continued was the opposition that he
was forced to abandon the project. What hope of
success can he have? Can he expect that they will
at once abandon their superstition and fall prostrate
before a God crucified? Will they renounce their
licentious habits to embrace the self-denial and cruci-
fying morality of the Gospel? What is Patrick to
preach? Mysteries which cannot be understood,
doctrines at variance altogether with their received
belief, precepts of morality the most mortifying to
self-love, and all the other obligations and duties
of the law of Jesus Christ.

This is the task St. Patrick proposed to himself.
And how is it to be done ? Is it by eloquence, or by
the favor of kings, or by any human resources?
No, my brethren, he relies on none of these. It is
by the Cross, by the power of Jesus Christ crucified ;
to the Jews indeed a stumbling block and to the Gen-



ON ST. PATRICK 373

tiles folly, but to all that are called, the wisdom and
the power of God. Its weakness is its strength. It
is in this that St. Patrick places his confidence.

Certainly human wisdom would have seen but lit-
tle prospect of success in the resources upon which
he relied. But hath not God chosen the weak things
of this world to overcome the strong and the fool-
ish to confound the wise ? So would the world have
thought had it seen St. Peter hastening along the
road to Rome to fix his seat in the Imperial City,
and when he wandered almost solitary through its
crowded thoroughfares, seeing on every side evi-
dence of a power and greatness that had been grow-
ing for eight hundred years, and w^hich, humanly
speaking, gave signs of lasting forever. How could
he imagine that the Gospel he proclaimed would one
day supplant that superstition so thoroughly im-
planted in the people, and so identical with their in-
stitutions, their law^s, their literature? How could
he imagine that his successors would in a few cen-
turies sit upon a throne far more than imperial, and
govern a kingdom far greater than the Roman em-
perors ever dreamed of, extending from the rising
to the setting sun? How could he hope that when
the emperors were forgotten, when pagan civiliza-
tion was among the things of the past, when the
palace of the Caesars had crumbled into dust, his
successor would rule an empire which Roman am-
bition never conceived — a spiritual kingdom in the
souls of men? St. Patrick had but the arms of the
Apostolate to report the victory. What are the arms
that Christ's Apostles from His own time in every
age, and even now, employ in their conquest for the



374 ON ST. PATRICK

souls of men? The Apostle must be a man of faith.
The just man lives by faith : how much more so the
Apostle? To him what faith reveals is more sov-
ereignly real than the physical objects that surround
us : for these pass away, while the verities of religion
are eternal. Thus realizing by faith the truths he
makes known and convinced that he is doing God's
v^ork, he comes to feel unlimited confidence in Him ;
and to look to Him always and under all circum-
stances for strength for himself and power to in-
sure the success and triumph of his ministry. In
him faith truly engenders confidence in God. Filled
and animated with this spirit of faith, motives of
faith must shape and guide his thoughts, his words,
his actions. Such a man, living a supernatural life,
will not be g-uided by the prudence of this world, but
will seek light and direction from above. As he
intends all his work for the glory of God, to know
His will and to do it, will be his continual study.
What he cannot at once succeed in accomplishing,
he leaves to God's own time and instruments. This
spirit of faith and utter reliance on God, St. Patrick
showed during all the years of his apostolate, and
throughout the length and breadth of the nation.

It was this spirit of faith and prayer and deep
humility which reconciled him to and enabled him
to bear his state of slavery before his rescue; for in
it he discerned the hand of God. He knew that the
herding of cattle could not be his place in life, it was
only a caprice of fortune. But his hour was not yet
come. Already he was possessed of the humility
and spirit of faith that attended him through life,
and that contributed so powerfully to enable him to



ON ST. PATRICK 375

overcome the obstacles, and disappointments, and
persecutions even to prison, and railleries of those
who at first mocked and despised him. He shows
his humility by speaking of himself in his Book of
Confessions as an "ignorant man and as a sinner."
But even more so by actually humbling himself to
the lowest no less than to those who were accounted
the nobles in the land. He became all things to all,
that he might gain all to Christ.

St. Patrick was a man whose soul was burning
with love of God and love of man. Without this
twofold virtue his mission would have been barren.
This love impelled him to take up the Apostolate,
sustained him in enduring it, brought him to its con-
summation. His soul w^as the soul of St. Paul:
"Who, then, shall separate me from the love of
Christ? shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or
nakedness ? or danger? or persecution ? or the sword ?
. For I am sure that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things
present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height,
nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to
separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ
Jesus, our Lord." — St. Paul, Rom. viii.

From this love of God came his love and deep
compassion for those souls sunk in superstition and
giving to the -creature the worship that belongs to
God alone. For these souls his heart burned with
the love that impelled the Apostle to exclaim that he
would willingly become an anathema from Christ
for his brethren. He imitated in his work the love
of Jesus Christ Himself for the souls of men. This
love of Christ Patrick would make known : he gave



Z7^ ox ST. PATRICK

concrete exhibition of it in himself. Like Xavier, he
would willingly risk his salvation, if assured of it, by
remaining longer on earth out of unquenchable thirst
for the souls of men.

Preaching not in the persuasive words of human
speech, but in the showing of the spirit in might and
power. This power of speech and the Divine grace
that accompanies it and enables it to find a lodg-
ment in the souls of men, producing fruit in the
fertile soil of a mind prepared to receive it, is the
means that God has ordained as the Apostle's effec-
tual instrument. Yet so that prayer go with it:
without prayer and the grace that comes from
prayer, all preaching is vain, and the preacher is a
sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

St. Patrick traveled throughout the land, teaching
the Gospel to all, high and low, rich and poor, bound
and free, prince and priest ; and his success reminds
of the success of St. Peter, when in one day he con-
verted five thousand. We might follow him through
the island and see him now teaching on the moun-
tain side and under the open canopy of heaven those
herdsmen engaged in the employment in which he
himself first received the inspiration of becoming
the Apostle of the land ; we would now see him in
the groves in which the Druids offered sacrifices,
disputing with the priests ; we could follow him
before the great council of kings, and priests and
learned men assembled annually at Tara, and there,
like another Paul, preaching the unknown God, as-
serting the Unity and Trinity of God, the Fall of
man, his restoration through the Incarnation and
Death of Christ, the eternal felicity of the just, the



ON ST. PATRICK Zll

everlasting punishment of the wicked, and all the
other great doctrines of our religion. At first the
Druids marveled at the wondrous things he taught.
If they were amazed at the greatness of God as
represented by him, their hearts were overcome at
the thought that this God out of love for men be-
came incarnate and died. From admiring the truths
of religion they came to believe them. All his teach-
ings were confirmed by his example.

Patrick, true Apostle, put all his hope and confi-
dence in prayer. He relied on no human strength.
Like St. Paul, when he was weak he was strong,
because he trusted in prayer and in unfailing con-
fidence in God. He prayed continually, one hundred
times by day, one hundred times by night. Human
gifts or resources counted for nothing as against the
tremendous power of fervent, unceasing communi-
cation with God in prayer. He imitated Christ,
Who taught us always to pray. Who himself prayed
for forty days, Who prepared Himself for his awful
agony by prayer.

From prayer and holiness came Patrick's powder of
miracles. Miracles are necessary for the unbelievers ;
they are the potent means by which such are brought
to believe the Gospel and its inscrutable mysteries.
Christ wrought miracles to prove His Divinity. "If
you believe not Me, believe the works that I do ; for
they give testimony of Me." Peter and all the other
Apostles did the same. It is necessary to establish
the truth of what is divine, in the minds of men. It
is only the holy or divinely sent that receive this
power from God through the Holy Ghost. It is the
divine voucher of their mission, the seal of their



3/8 ON ST. PATRICK

authority, the infalHble proof of the truth of their
teachings. It is something to which those called
upon to believe have a right: for otherwise they
could not know that the truths proposed were from
God.

As St. Patrick was an Apostle of Christ, sent as
the Apostles in the new law or as the prophets in the
old, there can be no difficulty in believing that he
was furnished with such supernatural aid in his mis-
sion as they had been, or was necessary to the es-
pecial exigencies of his success in Ireland. Hence
we take it as a matter to be expected, and as in en-
tire accord with the ways of God, Who always sup-
plies those appointed to such an office the chrisms,
gifts and graces necessary to its successful fulfil-
ment. Hence we are prepared for the special illumi-
nations which the Saint narrates he received con-
tinually; for the visions of future and contemporary
events vouchsafed him; for the facts worthy of the
Saint and incidental to his labors everywhere which
he records.

Finally, the miracles which he wrought, among
others that of restoring some seven or eight dead
persons to life. As miracles are for the unbelieving,
not for those already believing; as they are the very
expression of what to men seems impossible, those
who perform them have ever been accounted as the
messengers of the Most High ; and wrought in the
name of God, Who cannot give sanction to what He
does not authorize, they are to the unbeliever abso-
lute credentials of the heaven sent Apostle. Hence
Peter and Paul and other Apostles performed mir-
acles in the name of the Risen Jesus, and thus con-



ON ST. PATRICK 379

verted nations to Him. As uther x\postles in the
various ages and nations down to the present have
similarly attested their mission and the truths which
they taught, so likewise we must believe that Patrick
was invested with the same lofty power by Almighty
God. Conclusive and irrefragable must have been
his credentials in that pagan land, with its firmly
established priesthood and religious rites. Other-
wise there would never have happened that fact,
alone among the conversions of nations, that no
martyr's blood was shed. Elsewhere it had been
the seed of the Church; but here, in God's provi-
dence, the martyr's blood was reserved to be shed
for its preservation centuries after Patrick had gone
to his glory, and shed, too, by the spirit of heresy and
schism which has done greater injury to the Church
than infidelity itself. Doubtless, therefore, was
Patrick possessed of the power of miracles in com-
mon with all the Saints and 'Apostles from the be-
ginning till now. The union of the Holy Ghost with
the Church will for all time insure to its diffusion
this infallible and unfailing testimony.

They admired the disinterestedness w^hich prompt-
ed him to leave home and to pass his life in teaching
them those saving truths, without any temporal ad-
vantage. They saw his admirable virtues, his mod-
esty, humility, meekness, patience and perseverance,
his lofty faith that never failed him, hope that never
forsook him, prayer upon which he always relied,
and all those other virtues that made Patrick, in
common with all the Saints, reflections of the per-
fection and sanctity of Jesus Christ. And they con-
cluded that doctrines that produced such virtue must



380 ON ST. PATRICK

be divine. Thus, then as now, the influence of
example was greater than that of teaching. More
eloquent by far than any discourse is the example of
good life. They declared their belief; they sought
to be baptized and to be made members of the mys-
tical body of Christ.

Perseverance that no obstacle could conquer, zeal
that no waters could quench, self-denial and disin-
terestedness the marvel of the selfish and sensual, —
all truly apostolic arms — were the weapons which
contributed to his marvelous progress and success.
His fortitude never cjuailed before obstacles appar-
ently insurmountable, in spite of persecutions even
to prison and dangers that always waylaid him ; he
hoped against hope, convinced that God would not
be wanting at the opportune time. He was a man
of unquenchable zeal for the salvation of souls.
Never content with what had been done, he contin-
ually pressed forward to what was still to be done, —
a zeal that spared neither health, nor strength, nor
mind, which yielded to nothing, and to which all
things yielded, — which accounted everything as
refuse but what concerned God and His glory. Self-
denial and disinterestedness which led him to refuse
the offerings made him by those who felt that they
should reward him with worldly goods, who had
enabled them to become heirs of heavenly and eter-
nal riches. But he refused to do aught that would
seem to compromise his mission or throw suspicion
upon his motives. Instead of receiving, he gave,
gave even to the nobles as the effectual means of
conciliating their good will. All the virtues of the
Apostolate and which are the arms of the Apostle's



ON ST. PATRICK 3^1

ministry Patrick possessed in heroic degree and
superlative perfection.

It must not be imagined that because of his won-
derful success and because no martyr's blood was
shed, he did not encounter difficulties and even perse-
cution; in fact, he was encompassed with dangers
and opposition on every side; perils from enemies,
perils from false brethren, perils from true friends
mistaken through zeal and attachment; perils from
the faithful discharge of duty from those whom it
injured or displeased. In his first meeting with the
kings and learned men he was opposed by Neal, the
ruling king; he was imprisoned for receiving into
vows of evangelical profession the daughter of one
of the kings. Now, after fifteen hundred years, all
his labors, sufferings, privations, persecutions, are
forgotten or sunk in the one great fact of the tri-
umph of his mission. This is always the case : the
result if successful is remembered; if a failure it is
apt to be forgotten; but all the unceasing daily
labors and sufferings are lost sight of. Innumer-
able were the obstacles and trials that beset his
career from the day that he landed in Ireland until
he went to his reward.

With all his humility and condescension, Patrick
never forgot that he was the divinely appointed
Bishop of Ireland, nor did he fail to exercise his
supreme authority. Like Christ Himself, who de-
nounced Herod because of his foxy cunning and
spirit of dissimulation : like Him who flogged the
money changers from the temple — His Father's
house, which they had degraded into a den of
thieves : like St. Paul, who, although absent, yet as



Z^2 ON ST. PATRICK

present condemned the incestuous Corinthian and
dehvered him to Satan as an excommunicate : Hke
the Church, which in every age has exercised her
coercive power by sahitary punishments, a time came
when Patrick was called upon to show that the
crozier in his hands was not a mere ornament, but
the emblem of a divinely received power of punish-
ing the wrongdoer and the contumacious.

There was when the Apostle's career was well
advanced, one Corotic, a prince of a neighboring
nation ; it is not easy to say who ; probably from the
northwest of France or Wales. In the obscurity
of the time and the intermixture of names, it can-
not be determined of what place he was a ruler.
Corotic was a Christian by name, but not in soul or
morals. There were such Christians even then. He
made a descent upon Ireland at the Pascal time in a
place where Patrick had just confirmed in the faith
a great number of neophytes; they were yet clothed
with the white habit of their baptism. Corotic pil-
laged the place, and, contemning the Sacraments
just administered, massacred a great number of
them, and carried away captive a multitude of the
remaining, whom he sold into slavery with the Picts
and unbelievers among the Scotch. The outrage
was as barbarous as barbarian himself could have
inflicted. But it was trebly so as done by professing
Christians upon those just received into the Chris-
tian faith ; and as such was calculated to produce the
most disastrous effects upon the progress which
Patrick had so happily made in Ireland. What were
the neophytes to think of their new fellow Christian
religionists, and what of the Creed to which they



ON ST. PATRICK 383

were converted, when old-time professors of it were
capable of such nefarious crimes? It was a tre-
mendous scandal and might well have terminated
the Apostle's labors. This it was that excited the
indignation and stirred the zeal of Patrick. Who
was scandalized, and he was not on fire? Imme-
diately he sent a remonstrance to Corotic by an em-
bassy of priests, demanding the restoration of the
Christians whom he had enslaved, and the booty
which he had stolen. Mockery and raillery and
scorn of himself and his Hibernians, whom he con-
temned just as if they were inferior and not on a
level with his countrymen, just as if they could not
have had the same baptism and faith, made one, if
not otherwise, by the Sacraments of Christ, was the
manner of reply he made to the Saint.

Failing to make Corotic to enter into himself by
this epistle, the Saint sent him a letter of another
kind, not addressed to him, but a public and circular
letter, and concluding with the excommunication of
Corotic and those who had a hand with him in his
unhallowed outrage and desecration. In this docu-
ment, still extant, declaring himself in his humility
a sinner and an ignorant man, yet set up by God
Bishop of Ireland, he speaks in the tones of a
prophet and with the authority of Jesus Christ,
Whose bishop he is. He bitterly deplores the
treachery and perfidy of Corotic, above all, that he
had sold Christians as slaves to infidels. He declares
to the whole Church that this renegade to every
Christian instinct, and all those who had partaken
of his crime are cut off from him and Jesus Christ,
Whose place he holds; that the faithful should



384 ON ST. PATRICK

neither eat with, nor receive their ahns, until they
should have satisfied God by tears of true repen-
tance, and returned to liberty the followers and ser-
vants of Jesus Christ. It proclaims that whoever
communicates with them and supports them in their
sins shall be judged and condemned by God. It
calls upon all in whose hands this letter may fall
to spread it far and wide, to the utmost of their
power ; to have it read in all the churches, especially
in Corotic's presence; to put it in the hands of the
soldiers, that it may lead them to penitence for their
impiety and crime, and pardon. Behold the Saint's
love for his people and sorrow for those who slaugh-
tered them ; and that he rejoiced to see them reign
with Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs.

Patrick realized fully what Apostles have some-
times failed to do, that the Gospel, to take abiding
root in the land and to last permanently, should be
in the custody of an organized Church and fixed
hierarchy ; otherwise, his work would in great meas-
ure, if not entirely, cease with himself, as it has
wherever for any cause this living yet lasting moral
agency has been overlooked or delayed. While in
every nation to be converted to the truth the Apos-
tle must precede, yet in turn he must yield to the
bishops who are to preside forever in the new ac-
quisition. This was done by the Apostles sent by
our Lord.

It w^as doubtless the will of the Lord that Apos-
tles should remain such during their lives, but there-
after that the Apostolate should be merged into the
Episcopate, which was to be permanent ; except in
the matter of the Head of the Church. Peter, who,



ON ST. PATRICK 3^5

from the nature of the case, should continue till his
death, and then to live in his successors for all time
till the consummation of the world. Hence St.
Patrick, while remaining the Head or Primate of all
Ireland, established throughout the land Episcopal
sees, which he filled with bishops consecrated by his
own hands. His own immediate successor was
Benignus, the son of one who had controverted his
teachings when he first met the assembled Druids
and pagan kings at Tara.

Virginity and monasticism were planted deep and
everywhere in Irish soil, and ever since has it re-
tained its raciness and fertility for these great pro-
fessions. Nothing could have been done, after the
erection of the hierarchy, that could contribute so
powerfully to the preservation of the Gospel and the
perpetuation of the Church. For where evangelical
perfection is cultivated the Gospel can never cease
to be known; and when the greater virtues find
votaries, the lesser virtues will be professed and
practiced. Besides, they were nurseries of Gospel
virtue amidst the devastation of warfare and blood-
shed and in spite of the ever shifting vicissitudes of
human events. While in such abodes the Gospel
was preserved in its integrity and purity by the tra-
ditions and practice of holy men and women, such
retreats also became so many seminaries to supply
missionaries not alone at home, but abroad. From
the great monasteries projected and erected by St.
Patrick there was an unfailing supply of virgins who
by their prayers as well as example kept the Faith
alive during times of trial and persecution ; as when
the Danes for two or three hundred years overran



386 ON ST. PATRICK

the country and stripped it of almost every vestige
of Christianity. In the monasteries, in all of which
learning and religion and piety were cultivated,
great minds were formed to educate the vast num-
bers that flocked thither ; and from them went forth
great Apostles, such as Columbanus and Columba,
to carry the Gospel to where it had never been, or
from where it had been cast out by war and the evil
passions of men.

And here we must remark that wonderful fact
in the conversion of Ireland, — a fact which has no
parallel in the history of the Church, In the con-
version of Ireland no martyr's blood was shed. In
other countries the blood of the martyrs was the
seed of the Church. In other countries the first
preachers of the Gospel were generally sacrificed to
the superstition and ignorance of the people. In
Ireland they were listened to with attention, and,
having proved their mission and the truth of their
doctrine, were looked upon as the ambassadors of
Christ, with that peculiar love and esteem that the
Irishman ever manifests for the minister of God.
This fact confirms the belief of many historians that
Ireland, previous to the introduction of Christianity,
had made progress in literature, music, arts and
sciences, and other branches of knowledge. The



Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 25 of 43)