If you’re a mid Antrim man like Liam Neeson, Brendan Rogers and me then Slemish looms large in your landscape. As long as I can remember there being mountain, a few miles out the road, I remember that it was volcanic, a little disconcerting to a child, and that St. Patrick had lived there. And every St. Patrick's Day I see Slemish in my imagination, though I can no longer actually see it from South Belfast.
So again, on March 17th, I am thinking of a young Patrick kidnapped into slavery, sitting on that mountain. What was he thinking? How did he like the Irish? What about home?
The story goes that while tending sheep on Slemish, Patrick reflected on his relationship with God and it changed everything. Patrick wrote about God guiding him to a port where he would find a boat home. Escape. The ordeal done. The Irish put behind him.
But… that discovering God for Patrick meant that he would feel called back to those who kidnapped and enslaved him so that he could tell them the Good News of the Christian Gospel and convert them to the ways of Jesus. As God forgave him, Patrick becomes forgiving and goes back to forgive and love his enemies.
Some fourteen centuries later Belfast would be the port that would ban the slave ships, influenced by that Gospel that one slave came back to bring. Patrick’s time on Slemish didn’t only change everything for him but for the entire island as today’s celebrations across the world attest to.
It is an amazing story of redemption and forgiveness. So, today, whatever the dark time we are caught up in, there is hope of transformation. It might just be that this very place of misfortune or injustice is our Slemish, the place where our destiny finds its beginning to change us and maybe a nation… like Jacob wrestling with God or the children of Israel in slavery in Egypt, Paul blinded on the way to Damascus or Peter hearing that cock crow as he denies Jesus a third time.
Today, almost the entire world will be impacted by the day we remember Patrick. Rivers will be coloured green, millions will down green beer, wearing leprechaun hats and sprigs of Shamrock as we celebrate something of the wonder of being Irish. A closer look though and we might find the key to literally transforming the world - LIBERATION! FORGIVENESS! RECONCILIATION! LOVE OF THE OTHER! On a week like we humans have endured that would be a mighty fine St. Patrick's Day!
Christ be with you, Christ within you, Christ behind you, Christ before you. Have a blessed day.