When Jesus was a refugee

Yesterday was a feast of the Flight into Egypt, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to a foreign land in order to save their lives. I never knew we had this feast or how it’s marked, but what I do know is that it reminds us that Jesus, the one who came that we might have life, had to escape from his native land and became a refugee. Imagine the terror, Herod asking for all the little boys to be killed in Bethlehem and Mary and Joseph, being warned in a dream, running away to escape. I know they trusted God, but they must have been terrified. Now, imagine further what would happen if when they approached the new land, alas the borders were closed? ‘Sorry, no escape, go back into death’.

Instead, thankfully, they managed to run away and they lived in a foreign land, to us a hidden life, and probably ordinary in many ways. But Jesus knows what it means to be a refugee, a foreigner, and even though he was but a child when they escaped, I believe he knows even the fear, uncertainty. Not only because he is God, but because children soak up everything and remember more than we would ever think. Jesus understands how it is to be a refugee. And what about us? It’s something to think about…would we let Jesus into Egypt, or would we tell Mary and Joseph they are not welcome, they should go home. ‘There is no room in the inn, not only in Bethlehem, but also closer to home’.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 17th February 2017)

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 9

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Day 9: Becoming more, which we were always meant to be

St. Patrick is an example of what one can become when the Spirit of God takes over. Reflecting on Patrick’s life may help us recognise a potential in each of our lives, beyond what we may see at present. I am sure there are already pearls in each of our lives that we are grateful for, but there is also always more to discover when one journeys through life with God.

Patrick mirrored God’s love to the people of this island, and through the communion of saints he does so to this very day. Tomorrow the green colour will spread from Ireland all around the world; everyone will celebrate St Patrick’s Day! I wish they all knew what they are celebrating. We are celebrating that we are God’s beloved.

Whatever each of us chooses to do tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day, let us try to be aware that Christ is in our midst, in the people we meet, in us whoever or wherever we are. And let us say to St. Patrick, “walk among us, holy man, come and celebrate with us Your Day”.

There are many inspiring stories of St. Patrick’s mission here in Ireland – I encourage you to read more about him, from his own writing “The Confession” or other sources.

Patrick’s mission, though not without opposition, has been very successful. He tells us: “Do not contribute to me in my ignorance the little I achieved or taught, which was pleasing to God. Rather let your conclusion and the general opinion be the real truth, that my success was the gift of God”.

Today we pray that if we should listen to His voice, let us harden not our hearts.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ in every ear that hears me”.

And, Enjoy tomorrow!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 8

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Day 8: Personal input and the relevance of St. Patrick for today

Saints are friends we have in heaven. St. Patrick and his story have been an inspiration to me, especially because Ireland played a crucial part in my journey of faith since my teenage years too. For Patrick Ireland played a decisive role in his relationship with God and his mission here on Earth. I believe it is similar with me, as I have been praying for this place from my early teenage years, shortly after my conversion. When I still lived in Croatia the Spirit was increasing my longing for this place I now call my home, even though it took me years to actually come and live here. Knowing there was someone greater than me who came to this place drawn by God provided comfort and stability.

In his “Confession” Patrick writes, “What return can I make to him for all his goodness to me? What can I say or what can I promise to my Lord, since any ability I have comes from him? (…) My only prayer to God is that it may never happen that I should leave his people, which he won for himself at the end of the earth. I ask God for perseverance, to grant that I remain a faithful witness to him for his own sake until my passing from this life”.

Reflecting on Patrick’s life may help us recognise a potential in the Church, and in ourselves, beyond what we see at present. Is there something about his life that particularly inspires you and is relevant for your life? I, for one, find his faith extremely compelling. I wish I had such strong and unwavering faith like he had.

Today we pray that we may rediscover the relevance of St. Patrick for today, and that we may have a renewed hope that God is still on our side, and better days are yet to come.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ in every eye that sees me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 7

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Day 7: Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick – my Experience (excerpt)

Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick (also known as the Reek), mountain on the West of Ireland, is one of the most common devotions associated with St. Patrick.

I went there seven years ago in July. The walk was pleasant at first. Though it rained and was muddy it was somehow uplifting for the spirit. I knew St. Patrick spent forty days and nights on the Reek in deep prayer and fasting. The story says he fought devil, as people at the time would go up to worship a pagan god. Now, centuries after Patrick cleared the way, we were going up to worship Christ whom Patrick and many saints after him proclaimed. Thinking of the intention of my climb, I chose my walk to be a prayer along those lines, for this land to know Christ (again). One would think that intention as big as this would provide enough motivation to press on through the heavier parts of the journey, but I must say that this notion was severely challenged as we progressed on.

While we were walking, the rain and the wind increased and the journey became rougher. My spirit was, however, still on the high as I walked in silence and observed the beauty of surrounding mountains and the coast that spread so beautifully behind our back. But then I looked up. The last bit of the mountain leading to the top seemed so steep, almost vertical. As I climbed higher my humour and enthusiasm started to struggle with bad attitude and exhaustion. The higher I went the less I understood the purpose for doing this walk. It made no sense that people climb it time and time again in such great numbers when it honestly seemed quite crazy to climb that last bit, and even dangerous with wind and rain and only slippery stones below your feet. And it was really steep! On occasional moments my humour would come back and I could see stones as companions and friends, I could see that God was in every moment, His presence was not dimmed with the harsh conditions. But then it would all be gone from my sight and I was left with my bad attitude and struggled to go on. It dawned on me that the journey of faith, especially holiness, is as crazy in the eyes of the world as this climb was. All one can do is to keep the eyes on the goal, on the purpose of the journey, and when it gets tough resolve to always do this one more step and slowly keep on.

Today we pray for strength and perseverance on our journey of life and faith.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):  “Christ on every tongue speaking of me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 6

Day 6: Intercession (Praying with the Spirit)

St. Patrick describes the experience of praying with the Holy Spirit. “And once again, I saw him praying within my soul; it seemed as if I was still inside my body, and then I heard him above me, that is, over my inner man. So that there he was, praying with many a groan, and as all this was happening, I was stunned and kept marvelling and wondering who he might be, who was praying in this wise within me. But as this prayer was ending, he declared that it was the Spirit. In such ways I have learned, by my own experience.

And I recalled the words of the Apostle, ‘The Spirit comes to support the failing in our prayer. For we do not know how we should pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself asks for us, with so many groans, that may not be described.’ (Romans 8:26) And once more it is written, ‘The Lord himself is our advocate who asks on our behalf’. (John 2:1)”

Sometimes our hearts pray when we cannot put words to our prayer. Other times it is our tears or longings. The Spirit of God prays in us when we do not know how to pray ourselves.

Have you ever experienced that?

Today recall a time when the Holy Spirit supported your prayer or ask Him to do so now. Perhaps there are areas in your life that you don’t really know how to pray about. Ask God to assist you. Take a few moments to become aware of God’s presence with you, invite Him to guide you and lead you in life and in prayer.

Intercession is a prayer that listens to the heartbeat of God and turns in into words. Is there something dear to your heart, an area of need in the world that needs prayers? Spend some time praying for it and know that God listens intently and supports your prayer with sighs that are too deep for words.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):  “Christ in every heart thinking of me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2016)

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 5

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Day 5: Finally in Ireland again: Be-loved

So Patrick finally reached Ireland again; this time not as a captive of men, but as a lover of God. As I was reading about Patrick’s life in his “Confession” a thought struck me: God was here before Patrick, God had a dwelling place in Ireland then and He dwells here now. Patrick was open to recognise Him; Christ dealt with Patrick on a very personal, heart-to-heart level, as He does with us today as well. When Patrick came back to Ireland it was to give back to Ireland only what he himself received here – faith in Christ.

Patrick is an icon of someone who mirrored God’s love to the people of this island, and through the communion of saints he does so to this very day. Patrick came to show Ireland, and all of us here, that we are the Beloved of God; that is after all the central message of the Gospel. Rev. Ruth Patterson explains: “Beloved is an old and very special word, but it is not just a descriptive and powerfully affirmative yet gentle word, it is in a way also a command: Be-loved”. It is a vocation.

Patrick lived out that vocation and so to walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick today is to embrace within our hearts that we too are deeply and unconditionally loved – by Christ and by Patrick (because of Christ).

Ireland is a Beloved of God, the whole world is. Patrick came to affirm that truth in each one of us.

Today let us spend some time with that deep notion, ‘I am a Beloved of God’. Today let us allow ourselves to be loved by God. And with confidence let us accept a vocation of being ‘Be-loved’.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):  “Christ with me waking, walking and sleeping, Christ ever be”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 4

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Day 4: The Call of the Irish – shaping of Patrick’s character

One night, when Patrick was in his native country with his relatives, he saw a vision of “a man called Victor, who appeared to have come from Ireland with an unlimited number of letters”. Patrick took one of the letters and read the opening words, which were: “The voice of the Irish”. As he read the beginning of the letter he seemed to have heard at the same moment the voice of those who wrote to him. They shouted with one voice: “We ask you, boy, come and walk among us again”. Patrick says, “I was cut to the very heart and could read no more, and so I woke up”.

Robert Kane S.J., however, tells us that “many a weary yet uneventful year must pass” before St. Patrick can answer “The call of the Irish”. Though this is not recorded in St. Patrick’s “Confessions”, Robert Kane suggests: “Does it seem strange that while deep in his heart the longing lament of the sons and daughters of Erin kept ever murmuring nostalgic entreaties beseeching him to hasten back, St. Patrick should have lingered so many long years in quiet study and prayerful penance even though he knew that he was called to be God’s prophet to a chosen people, instead of boldly venturing in the name of Christ? Nay, Nay! It is not strange; work that is truly great is never done by random rush or careless effort. The highest type of greatness in human life is the outcome of great gifts in the hands of great character”. (from R. Kane, “The honour of Ireland”)

Patrick himself tells us: “Thank God, after many years the Lord answered their cry”.

Today we pray for Ireland, and for every country around the world where the Irish found their home. In many ways the hearts of the people of this land have been crying out to God, through various everyday struggles that this life on Earth sometimes brings. May each of these hearts know the healing comfort of God. And together we say: Come, o holy St. Patrick, and walk among us again, bring us the light of Christ to shine in each of our hearts.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):  “Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand; support of my life”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 3

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Day 3: Escape

Still in captivity one night in his sleep Patrick heard a voice telling him: “Soon you will go to your own country; look your ship is ready”. Patrick tells us: “It was quite a distance away, about two hundred miles. I never had been to the place, nor did I know anyone there. I ran away and left the man with whom I spent six years. The power of God directed my way successfully and nothing daunted me until I reached that ship”. Already then his life was fully immersed in prayer. God had already formed him extensively, yet the full magnificence of who Patrick will become has not yet been completely revealed.

The captain of the ship that was to take Patrick to his native land almost did not let him go on board, but as Patrick began to pray the man changed his mind. And so after six years in captivity Patrick escaped from Ireland. Apparently he went to study at home and abroad, became a priest and some accounts say that he may have been away from Ireland for as long as fifteen years. God takes time to prepare his servants well.

Today we pray for patience and trust as God’s plan slowly enfolds in our lives. Same as for Patrick who let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit, may we be guided too, especially through many stages of our life that are full of uncertainly and unknowing. May we trust the deep intuition of the Spirit within our hearts, and not be discouraged by other, at times, unfriendly voices.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):  “Christ be beneath me, Christ be above me, never to part”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 2

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Day 2: Transformed by the love of God

Patrick did not become who God intended him to be overnight. It took years for God’s plan to slowly enfold in his life. Patrick spent around six years in Ireland, minding sheep and cattle somewhere on the Irish hills. The Lord revealed Himself to Patrick in those solitary moments; His grace and the presence of Christ transformed what could have been an extremely awful experience of captivity by forming Patrick into one the greatest missionaries the world has known.

Patrick tells us: “The Lord there [in Ireland] made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last recognise my sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord my God. He showed concern for my weakness, and pity for my youth and ignorance; he watched over me before I got to know him and before I was able to distinguish good from evil. In fact he protected me and comforted me as a father would his son. I cannot be silent then, not indeed should I, about the great benefits and grace, which the Lord saw fit to confer on me in the land of my captivity”.

Today we pray that no matter what we may experience in life, no matter what pain or disappointment we may encounter, that God may transform it through His love and grace, and bring some good out of it. We especially pray for all those who suffer injustice and who find themselves in some sort of captivity – physical, emotional or spiritual – that the Lord may set them free.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ be before me, Christ be behind me, Christ to shield me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 1

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Five years ago on this day I was attending the Novena of Grace, which is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit who, in the Catholic tradition, is regarded as a patron saint of missionaries. (By the way, for those of you who are not Catholic, ‘novena’ is nine consecutive days of prayer and reflection; first ‘novena’ – though it was not called that way – happened after Jesus ascended into Heaven and the disciples stayed in Jerusalem to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit).

The Novena of Grace was in my parish church and I was ‘daydreaming’ how it would be wonderful to have a novena to St. Patrick; after all, Patrick was our own local ‘missionary giant’. At the end of the Mass I went towards the back of the church, to the table where you could write a prayer petition and put it in a prayer basket. You know what I saw on that table? A little booklet with a title ‘St. Patrick’s Novena’. Yay! I never knew such a booklet existed, but – rightly or wrongly – I thought that was for me, so I took it. When I counted the days from that day till St. Patrick’s Day I realised there were exactly nine days to it, so I got the booklet on the first day of the novena to St. Patrick! And lucky you, that day is today, so if you wish to join me on this journey we will try to prepare a little for St. Patrick’s feast in the coming days. I will aim at posting short reflections about Patrick daily.

Day 1: Captivity and encounter with the true God

Patrick, as we know, was not born in Ireland but in what is today known as Wales. At the age of 16 he was taken into captivity to Ireland, and as he admits in his “Confessions” at that time he “did not know the true God”. This is the image I have of that incident as it was happening: Patrick was on a ship, with thousands of others being kidnapped at the same time, and as they are being taken to Ireland, the Trinity looks down from Heaven (and God’s gaze, like the lights on a stage, focus on Patrick) and God says: “This is the lad I want, I choose him to do my work”. That decision and Patrick’s openness to it changed the history not only of Ireland – but it changed Patrick too.

Today we pray that as God looks at us, at Ireland and the world – as He looked at Patrick – that we may be transformed by His Love; may it be for our own salvation, for the good of the world and for God’s purposes to be fulfilled in our lives. St. Patrick, pray for us

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ be with me, Christ within me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)