Fasting: Part 8
I have noticed with delight that this blog consistently receives traffic from the Emeral Isle. Of course, Ireland always reminds me of St. Patrick. This has motivated me to do a little research on the good bishop to see if there was anything written about him that talked about fasting. Wow! I was not disappointed. It turns out that fasting played an enormous role in his life and ministry.
The story of St. Patrick’s life is fascinating. I rececommend this short article as an overview if you are not familiar with it. In a nutshell, Patrick was born in 387 AD, to a Roman Britain family living in Scotland. Around the age of 15, he was kidnapped by slave traders and brought to Ireland entirely against his will.
Patrick was sold to a chieftain named Milchu. He spent six years tending his master’s flocks on the slopes of the Slemish Mountain. Patrick recounts his time as a slave in his memoir entitled The Confession.
“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ ” says Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland. “Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”
One night during a time of prayer and fasting, Patrick wrote: “I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: ‘It is well that you fast. Soon you will go to your own country.’ And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: ‘See, your ship is ready.’ ” (CBN website)
After six years of slavery, Patrick found that ship and escaped back to his homeland where he was ordained first a priest, and then a bishop. But after a good number of years of which the written accounts are silent, Patrick had a dream where he was given letters from the Irish people asking him to return to their island. This dream touched him deeply. Twenty five years after he had escaped a horrible experience of slavery, he returned to Ireland as a missionary, eager to plant the seeds of faith with his former captors.
Life was hard for a Catholic missionary in Ireland. After 8 years of difficulty, he climbed the mount, Croagh Patrick, on Ash Wednesday of the year 441 AD, to pray and fast in a cave throughout the entire 40 days of Lent. After this period of time, God used him to light the whole island on fire with the warmth of the Catholic faith. Fasting bears fruit!
So Patrick fasted to get himself out of Ireland, then 30 years later he fasted so that God would convert it through his work. And God did just that. It is this kind of commitment to Christ that made Patrick such a towering figure in Ireland and now also in America. St. Patrick’s fasting shows us how he was completely committed to God. Fasting is all-encompassing. When you fast, you can’t forget to pray because your body is constantly reminding you of your longing for God. It is easier then, to focus more intensely on Him. It’s no wonder, then, that St. Patrick left us this beautiful prayer:
“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”