What a full day it is today! It is still Lent, but the 4th of Lent Laturne Sunday…when pious restrictions ease. It is also Mothering Sunday when British servants were permitted to return home to see their families, and people when to their Mother church. This is also one of the few times every few years when St. Patrick’s day is close enough to the Sunday to be venerated. St. Patrick the patron saint of Ireland who drove the snakes from the Irish shores. Well not really, not literally. You see there are no snakes in Ireland…there never were. But there was paganism, Druids and other religions that missionaries would have considered the devil’s work …that old snake. So, in a manner of speaking St. Patrick did drive the snakes from Ireland. St. Patrick was born in Britain into a Roman family in the 5th Century. His family were members of the Christian church, with both priests and deacons in the family. As a teen St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave to an Irishman, serving as a herder. During his enslavement he learned the language and a sympathy for the Irish people. After 6 years, St. Patrick it is said that St. Patrick received a vision from God, escaped captivity, returned to Britain, there he began his religious education, becoming monk, and in turn priest and eventually bishop, returning to the land of his enslavement to work as a missionary. Like many missionaries from those days many legends and tales sprang up around him. St. Patrick was said to be protected by the mantle of God against the spells and crafts of the druids. It was said when a local king tried to lop off St. Patrick’s head, the king’s arm became as stiff as a statue and wouldn’t move again until the king confessed and converted. On the Easter Vigil, St. Patrick lit a Pascal fire to celebrate the coming of Easter in defiance of a local chieftain’s his druid’s edict, yet nothing anyone tried to do could extinguish that sacred fire. In time, due to St. Patrick and his disciple’s perseverance Ireland did become a Christian nation. Ireland became an island center of monastic Christianity. Many kings and chieftains were converted and in response founded monasteries to which they sent their sons and daughters. The Druids were forcibly put down and driven out, a metaphor of those snakes of legend and many of the local traditions were incorporated into what became Celtic Christianity. Ireland which had been ruled over by chieftains and kings in small, divided tracts of land…became ruled over by great monasteries and their abbots and abbesses, to the extent that certain families who had once been kings were now hereditary abbots over huge areas of land, villages and farms. The traditional Irish emphasis on nature, and matrilineal succession continued alongside of and blended with the monastic disciplines of penitence, study and prayer. Creating a nation that changed dramatically in a few generations. Despite all that St. Patrick had accomplished he suffered from a strong sense of unworthiness and ineptitude. Having been taken from home as a teen St. Patrick didn’t receive the same education and cultural immersion as the rest of the Roman Britons, his Latin wasn’t great and he was seen as lacking refinement. So, when St Patrick returned home, he was seen and saw himself, as uneducated, inept and an outsider. Harnessing his own insecurities, when he and his followers returned to Ireland they set up a vast institution, that was more equal than hierarchical. St. Patrick created churches and local priests, monasteries and abbesses, equipping the locals to be leaders, men and women both. Perhaps sensitive to his own history St. Patrick’s monasteries focused on education to such an extent that the then nearly illiterate Irish population was speaking, reading and writing Latin in short order. The monasteries also created a written version of old Irish and founded scriptoriums which have since produced some of the most beautifully illuminated and detailed manuscripts ever seen. Under St.Patrick’s leadership the fractured Irish clans were united under one Christian faith, taught to read and write, brought into closer relations with the western church and even sent out their own missionaries that left their mark on Christianity in the west. In fact, some of the monasteries they set up are still going strong, and some theologies they proclaimed still hold true, like the Shamrock as a representation of the Trinity; three leaves on one stem. But perhaps the most famous and significant theological legacy that St.Patrick left us was that blend of the ancient celtic religion and monastic theology unique to Celtic Christianity whose roots are sown deep in Trinitarianism, hospitality, penitence and creation. This theology is exemplified in the prayer of protection attributed to St St.Patrick… St.Patrick’s breastplate. Which, in one great poetic hymn, proclaims the power of the Trinity and a desire to firmly grasp ones faith with both hands. The story of Christ, the prophets and all those who have had a word in salvation’s history, the beauty and majesty of creation and the love that God has for us. The fears and dangers we face from without and within, and how Christ can keep us safe. Finally ending as it began with a bold proclamation of the substance and power of God and our desire to be one with and give praise to… the God of our salvation. I have a great respect for Celtic Christianity. It’s journey began as a missionary endeavor and Christianity was indeed proclaimed as superior to indigenous religious. However, traditional languages, people and customs were embraced rather than vilified. The traditional leadership, chieftains and their families were sought after to become monks, bishops and Christians leaders. Celtic Christianity worked with the systems of the people, with monasteries becoming centers of education, agriculture, and hospitality. The leaders of the monastic communities in Ireland were not seen, and more importantly didn’t see themselves, as powers to be obeyed but mentors and guides. The foundational benefit of Celtic Christianity was that, at its heart was the monastic tradition, with its focus on discipline, prayer, work and hospitality. Monks and local people worked together in a cycle of prayer, study, silence and vocation, be that farming, building, or writing …they worked alongside one another for the benefit of the community. Ireland’s faith had a strong connection to nature and creation and celtic Christianity highlighted what had previously existed reinterpreted in the light of Christ. St. Patrick’s breast plate highlights how that faith became immersed in every aspect of people’s life. As the delightfully odd 5th verse reminds us. Christ be with me, within me, behind me, before me. Christ in quiet, in danger, in the hearts of all who love me, in the mouths of friend and stranger. There is no where in life or death where Christ cannot be found, there is no power that can separate us from Christ. Celtic Christianity embraces that theology and the creation based heritage it comes from. I bind unto myself to day the virtue of the starlit heaven, the glorious sun’s life giving rays, the flashing of the lightening free, the stable earth, the deep salt sea. There is so much to learn from the Celtic expression of Christianity and how with works with the community that it exists within. We may think of St. Patrick’s day as a day of silliness and Guinness fueled frivolity, but the monastic based Christianity that St. Patrick began in Ireland has a lot to teach us about working with the communities we are based in rather than taking them over. The Saints are there as examples for later generations, as guides and models of the faith and though not perfect there is a lot we can learn from St. Patrick. So this day we pray that Christ will be with us, in everything that we do.