A Saint for Our Time

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Though I bear an Irish first name, my ancestry is only very slightly Irish. St. Patrick’s Day is not a major holiday in my life.

But it is an occasion to remember some of the gifts that St. Patrick has given to the church. Several years ago, I read the book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, which points out that the Christianity which was introduced to Ireland by Patrick and those who followed him warrants our attention. As we consider how to live as Christian people in a post-Christian world, as we consider the characteristics of the millennials and of those who describe themselves to be “spiritual but not religious,” we can learn from the early Christians in Ireland.

George Hunter contrasts the early Irish church with the more established church in Rome, stating that the Irish church was more of a movement than an institution, and one that emphasized laity in ministry more than clergy. The Irish movement was more imaginative and less cerebral.

If you were to visit a Celtic monastic community, you would pass through a circular outer wall, and then a gate which would signify that you were entering hallowed ground: “The wall did not signify an enclosure to keep out the world; the area signified the ‘alternative’ way of life, free of aggression and violence and devoted to God’s purposes that the community modeled for the world.” These communities produced a less individualistic and more community-oriented approach to the Christian life.

Irish Christians believed that spirituality was not something separate from their daily lives, nor was it reserved for one day or one place; rather, their spirituality was woven into their everyday existence: “The Celtic Christians learned prayers to accompany getting up in the morning, for dressing, for starting the morning fire, for bathing or washing clothes or dishes, and for going to bed at night.”

How can we articulate, in our own day and time, a way of discipleship that emphasizes imagination and the gifts of the laity? How can we be a Jesus movement that models an alternative way of life, one that is more communal, free of aggression and violence? I believe people long for a spirituality that brings depth and joy to every day life.

There is something about the Jesus movement, when well-lived, that attracts people to it…let’s raise a glass of something green to Patrick today and consider what we might learn from him about walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

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