Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s ‘Pause for Thought’ on St Patrick’s Day

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This morning, Tuesday 17 March, the Feast of St Patrick, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor contributed his Pause for Thought on The Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. His reflection focuses on St Patrick and what we can learn from his humility and faithfulness. 

Pause for Thought

I met a friend last week and asked him if he had had an opportunity to watch the England-Ireland rugby match on 1 March.

I knew he had been abroad. “Yes”, he said, “I found an Irish pub and watched it there”. Irish pubs seem to be everywhere and so it seems are the countless millions of descendants of Irish people, like myself.

So today is St. Patrick’s Day and his feast is being celebrated all over the world. What do you know about him? Well, it is alleged that he was born in England, though there are many Welshmen who would dispute that. It’s alleged that snakes were crawling all over Ireland and he banished them from the country. It is alleged that he confronted and confounded the Druids. It is alleged, no, I think it is true, that one day he picked up a three-leafed plant called a shamrock to illustrate the Christian belief in what we call the Holy Trinity, that God is not only God, God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is Love.

It seems to me that of all the patron saints of the different countries, St. Patrick has an undying appeal, especially of course in Ireland, but also elsewhere. I want to suggest that when Patrick was swept off into slavery at the age of sixteen, he suffered what we would call now a sort of trauma from which, in a sense, he never quite recovered. As a result, Patrick always thought of himself, even as an old man and a bishop, as being utterly helpless, utterly defenceless, utterly abandoned. That is why we feel a terrific sympathy with Patrick; his humility was so sincere and it is expressed in everything he wrote and everything he did.

Again and again, he brings out his own sense of inadequacy, always turning to the strength given him by God. Patrick was very, very human and his trust was not in himself but in the God who called him.

The message for me from Patrick is not only his example of prayer but also his humility. So my thought today is really to remember Patrick’s humility and ask him for something of it for ourselves.

We often feel, and perhaps should feel, that we are weak and unable to cope in different ways, so let us realise that humility is a great virtue because it means we don’t depend totally on ourselves and that we are always in the need of the help, the love, the support of other people. I would also say that we also need the help of God.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster