Saint Patrick’s day musing: learning from the Faith of the Irish


 Today, 3/17/2012 is Saint Patrick’s day. A day where people celebrate their Irish heritage. This writer does have family who immigrated from Ireland, so the day has some meaning. Yet, the meaning for me does not rest on green beer and alcohol, but rather the roots of the Church in Ireland. There is a lot of history related to Ireland. Now I am not talking about the modern and infamous Protestant and Catholic battles that can easily focus on. The history is not even the legend and stories related to Saint Patrick. Rather, it is the unique elements of the early Church in Ireland and what it should point us to today. It is very worthwhile to examine and explore the early church history of Ireland. Granted, this writer has only viewed a few articles here and there over years and seen varied writings about “Celtic Christianity” but there is a core element that runs through the early Church and Ireland that want to discuss and encourage others to take to heart. Some of these thoughts are triggered by an old article found here: http://www.cslewis.org/journal/hearts-and-minds-aflame-for-christ-irish-monks%e2%80%94a-model-for-making-all-things-new-in-the-21st-century. There are three key elements of the Irish faith that is important for us to learn from: growth focused, other focused, and wholly surrendered. Let’s look at each area briefly.

 The early church in Ireland stressed growth with a balance of both knowledge and spiritual.  The encouraged discipleship. Growth of the whole person. They developed schools, monestaries and varied means of encourage growth in relating to God and growing in knowledge.  Ignorance was not tolerated. In order for people to grow in truth they needed to learn, so people were taught through a variety of means. Growth was not just limited to education either as creativity was embraced and used to spread and teach the truth. The just not teach things from a growth in knowledge standpoint but encourage over all growth. They truly embraced Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This focus should encourage us to each continue to learn and grow much like the early Irish Church.

The second area to examine is that the early Irish Church was other focused. They engage others. It starts with Saint Patrick who is rumored to have brought the whole Island of Ireland to be disciples of Jesus. Now, while that is interesting piece of legend, those reach in Ireland were reached because of actions Patrick took to share God’s love with others. The same is true for Columban, who brought the Gospel from Ireland to England and beyond. The Gospel spread greatly because of early Irish Christians. They lived not to hold back but to share and give to others. They did so by word and deed. They created great works that spread. Even the Hymn “Be Thou My Vision” has Irish history. The used the gifts they had and created whatever God put on their heart, by it for a few, or be a reach of many. They gave of themselves to others. Too often in today’s church the focus becomes on what is good for self and what makes me comfortable in the world we live in. We want the world to shape to what makes us comfortable. The early Irish Church impacted the world by engaging with the Gospel and living fully as salt and light. It is a challenge to us to be that engaging and not dependent on what others give, but to give what we have to give to reach others.

The third area is that of a while surrender. The early Irish church recognized that whole submission to God was vital. They gave of all. They even often pursued a “Green martyrdom” of giving up all of self. They encouraged the fully giving of all not just for the purposes of self, but to reach and touch others. A relationship with God was considered, that a relationship involving the whole person with total commitment. In terms of what is best for the whole person, it all stopped and started with growth in knowledge of God. As one grew deeper in knowing God, one also grew in experience of God’s love. As that grew, in turn it flowed to those with whom they interacted. That love built great passion for God and others and that passion was seen in their expressions of music and art. Today, we settle for “good enough” and too often simply lean on the works of others. We sing songs with passion, but do we create? We recycle what others have done, but how much of gifts and self do we give? Do we have limits, do we give all that God asks of us? These are things the example of many of the early Irish Church pushes us to examine.

Admittedly, the early Irish church was not perfect and there are elements of what they said and did that are flawed, for we are all but just a part with limits that skewed by our own minds and imaginations. The early Irish Church though did not shrink back. They advanced the Gospel. They encouraged growth with actions that impacted others with a passionate whole surrender to God. This is the Faith of The Irish that should impact each of use today.

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