Tag Archives: St. Patrick

St. Patrick the shepherd

March 13, 2020


St. Patrick spent six years as a shepherd. When he was sixteen Irish pirates swept into his village, kidnapped him, and forcibly took him back to pagan Ireland where he was sold as a slave. His master ordered him to tend his sheep, which he did until a voice spoke to him and instructed him to escape. He fled at the age of twenty-two.

St. Patrick felt that these six difficult years were the result of the sins of his early youth. His time as a shepherd proved to be a conversion experience. He had strayed from God and returned. He had prayed infrequently, and then prayed morning, noon, and night. While he may have thought that his hardships were punishment, shepherding can be a deeply spiritual experience and God has used shepherding to groom the leaders of the future.

Shepherding is an outdoor job. A shepherd experiences the sunrise and the sunset, hillsides and forests, green meadows and blooming flowers, billowing clouds, gentle breezes, softly falling showers, angry clouds, furious winds, pounding rains, lightning bolts, thunder claps, raging rivers, and rainbows across the sky. Creation reveals its Maker. It is an experience of the transcendent. Shepherds are led to God.

Shepherding provides solitude, quiet time to pray and meditate, not only to speak to God but to listen attentively without distraction.

Shepherding teaches leadership, how to take charge, be responsible, lead and guide, make adjustments, respond to crisis, and make critical decisions.

Shepherding teaches self-sacrifice, service gladly given, as well as a willingness to lay down one’s life to protect the sheep from wild predatory animals and rustlers.

Shepherding teaches self-sufficiency. No one else is there to do the work. A shepherd accepts the task and completes it.

Shepherding teaches the value of the common good. A shepherd cares for the entire flock, guides all of the sheep to green pastures and watering holes by day, and to pens or caves by night. A shepherd keeps the flock together and does not allow any sheep to wander off alone.

Shepherding teaches care and concern. Shepherds provide individualized attention, recognize differences in appearance and temperament, and works for the betterment of each sheep.

Shepherding teaches humility. It is a lowly job. There is no status, recognition, or popularity. Many look down on shepherds. It is can be extremely lonely.

Two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament were shepherds. Moses tended the flock of his father-in-law Jethro in Midian (Ex 3:1), and David tended the flock of his father Jesse in Bethlehem (1 Sm 16:11). After learning how to lead a flock of sheep, Moses was prepared to lead the Israelites for forty years on the exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and David was prepared to lead Israel for forty years as its greatest king.

Likewise, shepherding prepared St. Patrick to lead the church of Ireland, which he did for twenty-nine years (432 to 461). It was his mission to preach Jesus, the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11,14), to help others to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow in his paths.

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St. Patrick – The Incident on the Hill of Slane

March 13, 2019


Hill of Slane

One of the more memorable events in the ministry of St. Patrick (385-461) was an incident that took place at the Hill of Slane in 433 AD, one year after he returned to Ireland as its second bishop. Initially St. Patrick settled in County Down, but a year later he set sail southward, and he chose the Hill of Slane as a place to proclaim Christianity in the Boyne River Valley area.

The Hill of Slane is located in County Meath, ten miles inland from the coast of the Irish Sea and west of the modern Irish city of Drogheda. It is forty-five miles south of Armagh, thirty miles north of Dublin, and has an elevation of 518 feet above the valley below.

There was another important hill in the same region, the Hill of Tara, ten miles from the Hill of Slane, and when visibility was good, it was possible to see from one hill to the other. The Hill of Tara was a cultic center where people worshiped the Celtic god of the sun, Lugh. In a primitive, prescientific society, the sun was accorded exalted importance because it is the main source of light, it brings warmth, and it makes the plants grow, and without plant food, the people perish. Consequently, pagan sun worship was deeply embedded in the fabric of the Celtic people.

King Laoghaire (also Loegaire, Laoighre or Laoire), the Celtic High King, renowned for his ferocity and brute strength, resided in Tara, and he led a fire ceremony for the druids and his subjects each year at the time of the Beltaine Festival during the Spring Equinox called the Feast of Tara. The king lit a sacred fire at the top of the hill to honor the pagan sun god, and it was left burning for a number of days. The king strictly prohibited any other fires that could be seen from Tara during the entire duration of the festival.

St. Patrick was not intimidated and defiantly disregarded the king’s order. St. Patrick boldly and bravely lit and blessed the Paschal fire and the Easter Candle during the Vigil Service on Holy Saturday night. The fire was left burning and could be seen clearly from the Hill of Tara.

St. Patrick made an emphatic statement: Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 12:46), and none other, not even Lugh, the pagan sun god. Jesus is the true light that enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9), the light shining in the midst of the darkness (Jn 1:5a). On Easter Sunday, Jesus was the light rising in glory, the light that dispels the darkness of our hearts and minds (Roman Missal, 200), the light that inflames the hearts of believers with heavenly desires and purifies the mind (Roman Missal, 198), the pillar of fire that banishes the darkness of sin (Exsultet, 208), a light that mingles with the lights of heaven, and a peaceful light shed on all humanity (Exsultet, 209).

At one time King Loegaire and the druids planned to have St. Patrick killed, but St. Patrick was so convincing and persuasive, and the king was so impressed by his extraordinary devotion, that he allowed St. Patrick to continue his missionary work in his kingdom.

The Hill of Slane served for centuries as a monastery and religious school. Today remnants of the monastery chapel and friary can be seen, as well as a tower, the college building, and a cemetery with many distinctive Celtic crosses. A statue of St. Patrick is displayed prominently at the front of the ruins.

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Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015


An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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