What outstanding characteristics would a person require to become the new Saint Patrick?
First – he will have to be a person of deep prayer. Karl Rahner has repeatedly warned , “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” People don’t want to know more about God – they want an experience of God. He will need to understand that the churches emphasis on the world and social needs must be complemented by the cultivation of the inner mystical life.
Patrick was a mystic – a man of profound prayer – he knew his God. He prayed about anything and everything . He prayed everywhere and nowhere and no activity was devoid of the sacred. “In a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times and by night almost as frequently, even while I was in the woods or on the mountain.”
Second – he would need to have courage, persistence and be a good listener -courage because the problem he faces is not the ferocity of the pagan Druids of Patrick’s day but the apathy of a people whose spiritual faculties have been dulled by the false gods of consumerism and technology.
Persistent because he will be dealing with the disillusioned – those who struggle to locate spiritual feelings in the rituals and theological forms on offer. Many of these have already headed East, or committed themselves to environmental and social concerns because they feel that the living spirit is not present in established churches.
But the good news for our new recruit is that the spirit hasn’t gone away, and is present in our world – something new is emerging from the chaos. He will need to be a good listener to hear what the spirit and indeed what Patrick is saying to the churches.
Third his theology, if it is to have an impact, will have to be embodied, physical and centred on creation.
For Patrick “the universe was ablaze with God’s glory, suffused with his presence that calls, nods and beckons us – a creation personally united with its Creator in every atom and fibre.”
There’s no plant in the ground
But is full of his blessing.
There’s no thing in the sea
But is full of his life…
There is nought in the sky
But proclaims his goodness.
Jesu! O Jesu! it’s good to praise thee! – (Carmina Gadelica)
Can we recover this vision? This is a big challenge for any new recruit as we are the first generation to have forgotten that we live on a planet – forgotten that we are creatures, part of creation and ‘every bush a burning bush’ – nature our teacher and all times and places are potentially sacred and not just church designated times and spaces.
We live beneath a sacred canopy and there are sparks of holiness in everything and everywhere and the old heroic manner of pitting ourselves against nature must give way to one which fosters receptivity, care and openness to the mystery of creation.
So our new Patrick has much to do. He or maybe she, will recognise that the changes needed require a conversion of Pauline dimensions and much prayer and patience.