The Ash of St. Patrick

Legend has it that St. Patrick carried with him, everywhere he went, a walking stick made from the wood of an ash tree. Every time he stopped at a place, he would stick it in the ground until he was done teaching and preaching, then he would take the stick and be on his way.

One particular day, St. Patrick met some people who were very curious about Christianity. St. Patrick stopped, stuck his stick in the ground and spent some time teaching and preaching. The people were very curious and wanted to learn all about the faith. St. Patrick patiently answered all of their questions but his answers only spurred more questions. Hours became days and days became weeks. Patrick spent the whole time listening and explaining, never growing tired or irritable. When the people had finally become convinced and wished to convert to Christianity, St. Patrick baptized them. When he was finally ready to move on, he went to retrieve his stick.  To his great surprise, St. Patrick found that the walking stick had taken root and grown into a great ash tree. The place is called “Aspatria” to this very day: “The Ash of St. Patrick.”

There are many colorful legends about the life of St. Patrick. This beautiful story illustrates the importance of patience. A walking stick, a symbol of transience, is transformed into a tree: something fixed and permanent. This is the product of patience. Many times we are tempted to move on before the job is done. We let setbacks or lack of progress convince us that we’ve done all we can do and we pick up our sticks too soon. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to carry out our work with faithfulness and persistence, not moving on until the good we have done finally takes root.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Brother Masseo’s Request…

During the first days of the Fransiscan movement, St. Francis surrounded himself with disciples who were eager to learn from him and imitate his life of simplicity. One of these was a man named Brother Masseo. Brother Masseo became very convicted one day after hearing Francis preach on the virtue of humility- so convicted that he resolved to forsake all other pursuits and seek only after humility! Brother Masseo went back to his cell and for days on end he fasted and prayed late into the night, begging God to send him to Hell for his sins. All this was in an effort to cultivate humility. He continued like this until one day in his despair he wandered out into the woods where he was startled by a voice from heaven:

“Masseo, Masseo,” said the voice.

“My Lord!” cried Brother Masseo, knowing the voice was that of Christ.

“Masseo,” said Christ, “What will you give me in exchange for the humility you seek?”

“My very eyes!” Brother Masseo called back.

“But I do not want your eyes,” Christ replied, “Keep them, and have my grace as well.”

From that moment on, Brother Masseo was filled with true humility and unspeakable joy.

This little story from “The Little a Flowers of St. Francis”, one of the earliest collections of tales about him and his followers, is a deep parable that rewards contemplation. Brother Masseo ultimately learns that humility cannot be achieved through effort but that it is a gift of grace. He also learns that Christ has no use of our eyes. In other words, our high or low view of ourself and others is of no value to Him. Masseo was trying to obtain humility by lamenting about his wretched estate. Yet it is this very kind of self involved thinking that is the enemy of humility. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less…” I couldn’t put it any better myself.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Legend of St. Christopher

St. Christopher was an extremely tall man who was in search of someone powerful to serve. Once when he was traveling in a forest, Christopher found an old hermit who told him all about Christ. When the hermit had finished, Christopher asked to be converted and baptized. Following his baptism, Christopher asked the hermit how he should serve God. The hermit answered that Christopher should become a hermit and devote his life to prayer and fasting. This didn’t suit Christopher very well. He enjoyed the company of others, had trouble staying still enough to pray, and was so tall that he constantly had to eat to keep from being famished. When Christopher objected that the life of a hermit wouldn’t really suit him, the hermit suggested that he find another way to serve Christ that would be more suited to his talents.

St. Christopher thought long and hard about this as he walked back toward town through the forest. Suddenly he happened on a deep river with powerful currents. It was then that a marvelous idea came to him. Christopher decided that he would live by the river and help travelers across. This way, he wouldn’t have to stay still, he could talk to all kinds of different people, and he could put his gift of tallness to use. So that is what he did.

One night, a young boy approached St. Christopher and asked him for help crossing the river. Christopher happily obliged, and lifted the small child up onto his shoulders. He was light as a pillow. So Christopher began to cross the river with the boy on his back. But as Christopher progressed further and further into the river, the boy became heavier and heavier. By the time, Christopher was midstream, he was really struggling. His knees were buckling beneath the weight. By the time he was within steps of the shore, he had more weight on his back than he had ever carried. He was grunting and gritting his teeth as he trudged the last few steps, trying desperately not to collapse.

Once St. Christopher and the boy were safely out of the water, Christopher asked the boy why he had grown so heavy as he labored to set him down. The voice he heard was not the voice of a boy though. It was the voice of a man. But not just any man. It was the voice of Christ himself, who explained to Christopher that when he was carrying him, he was carrying the weight of the entire world.

With this Christ vanished and St. Christopher knelt and praised God. For he had been able to serve Christ using his very special gifts.

St. Christopher is known among many things as the patron saint of travelers. Though, because of my line of work, I think of St. Christopher as the patron saint of youth pastors. We youth pastors know what it is like to carry a child across the river of adolescence and to feel their weight increase, hopefully as they grow more and more in the likeness of Christ. This parable teaches us that not everyone is called to the same Christian lifestyle. We all serve God in our own unique ways. It also teaches us that when we carry Christ with us, it is the heaviest burden we can bear. However we find to serve using our unique gifts, we should serve eagerly and joyfully. No matter how great the burden seems, we should serve each person as if we were serving Christ himself. Because, in truth, we are.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…