THERE I FOUND HIM: Finding Meaning with St. Patrick in Isolation

“I cannot hide the gift of God which He gave me in the land of my captivity. There I sought Him and there I found Him.” (St. Patrick)

In the Gospel for the Feast of St. Patrick there is the call to “put out into deep water” and today we find ourselves in the uncharted, deep waters of the coronavirus. There is uncertainty, fear and isolation. Isolation – the astonishing extent of it – is almost more fearsome than the disease itself. It is a challenge for families who have self-isolated, even more so for the elderly who are having isolation imposed on them, facing the prospect of not seeing their families for weeks or even months. The loneliness of that is perhaps something not considered by the experts and those in power.

I listened to an expert on BBC radio this afternoon on my way to hear confessions in St. Richard’s school. He said that grandchildren should be able to visit grandparents provided they take all the precautions of washing and keeping the required distance of two metres. That makes sense to me but those visiting the elderly would have to be scrupulous about washing hands etc.

Today was my first time to minister at St. Richard’s, apart from celebrating a Friday morning Mass for a small group a couple of years ago. I was prevented until now from doing anything in St. Richard’s because my safeguarding clearance wasn’t sorted but, truth be told, I was not in a hurry to go there because I feel I lack the gifts needed for secondary school students. It’s fine on a one-to-one and today’s experience was truly lovely, ninety minutes well spent.

Isolate. Self-isolation, imposed isolation – the reality of it can lead to a feeling of being held captive, like we are prisoners within our own life experience, a prison from which there is no escape no matter where we turn. It struck me this morning that we have a companion in St. Patrick who found himself alone, isolated, a prisoner on the mountains in very harsh conditions.  Within that reality he sought God and came to know Him in a new and more profound way.

“Do not be afraid” Jesus says time and again, as He does to Peter in this morning’s Gospel. As the deep water became a deep encounter, the opportunity of a new beginning for Peter with Jesus, as the captivity of the mountain was for Patrick, so our isolation is an opportunity to break through our fear into a new and deeper encounter with Jesus and others. Christ within, beside, above and below us. We are encompassed in the divine embrace and held safely there.

It also offers us time for reflection – to ponder the meaning of what is taking place, to turn our hearts to God in ways that we might have resisted until now and perhaps to find the wisdom that will allow us to contemplate our own mortality and the eternal life to which we are called, to contemplate how prepared we are for that eternal life. To do so without presumption or fear. To do so with trust.

It offers us time to pray, to be still a while and know that God is with us, to allow the prayer of the Holy Spirit to rise within us. For the Spirit comes to help us and, when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit prays within us with sighs too deep for words, uttering the prayer that is necessary in the moment. (Romans 8:26)

Patrick too experienced this prayer of the Spirit. “I believe that I was sustained by Christ my Lord and that His Spirit was even then calling our on my behalf. I saw a person praying in me. I was puzzled and wondered who could possibly be praying in me. He spoke saying that He was the Spirit.” (St. Patrick, Confessions)

Finally, it is a time for families to spend more time together, to have fun together as I see happening with my family at home. And it is already a time when people are kindly attentive to those who are alone and in need of help. I being one of the alone have had so many offers of help in all sorts of ways. The offers alone raise me up to another level of joy. Thank God and thank you!