Readings: 1 Peter 4:7-11; Psalm 96:1- 10; Luke 5:1-11
St Patrick, a pioneer missionary from Britain to pagan Ireland in the early fifth century, played a major part in the initial evangelisation of the Irish people. Today we face the challenge of what is called re-evangelisation or new evangelisation in Ireland and Britain. This means reaching out with the Gospel to people who have heard and accepted the Gospel in previous generations, and even in this one, but are now turning their backs on it. The situation requires us to preach the gospel again, but aware of the new attitudes and issues and making use of new technologies as well.
Is there anything for this new situation that we can learn from St Patrick in his original situation? A lot, I expect, but I will focus on just one thing. Patrick spent about 6 years as a slave in Ireland after being captured around age 16. He had to face and come to terms with an awareness of the problems and poverty of being human and of how limited he was in determining his future. He persisted in prayer during those years and encountered God in a deep way. Rather than make him bitter this experience of slavery made him humble; rather than make him want to cut himself off from his oppressors, it drew him close to them and gave him a great love for them, and a desire to share the Gospel, sensitive to their culture. In a condensed, or more intense, form this is the process that Peter also went through in today’s Gospel.
Why is this relevant? People in our islands sense that the church has failed people and is arrogant and out of touch, not willing to admit its mistakes or limitations. Rather than withdraw, or act as though we are ‘holier than thou’, or even feel that everything depends on us living perfect lives, let us admit our faults both to God and to others. If the Church is genuinely honest, humble and, where necessary, contrite, it will probably establish a point of contact with wider society, and give space for a better acknowledgment of our common humanity with its limits, fragility and vulnerability.
This may mean we can enter into such solidarity with the people around us that we will be better placed to listen and learn a language in which to effectively express the hope and mercy and grace that the Gospel still offers us, precisely as broken people. Some, perhaps many, of those with whom we have come into a solidarity of human frailty might well then want to come into a solidarity with us of faith, hope and love for, and in, Jesus.
In short, we may need to begin our new or re-evangelisation by meeting and sharing with people at the level of brokenness. This means facing and learning to live with human limits and brokenness, as St Patrick and St Peter did. Lent is a good time to do this, beginning with ourselves.