St. Patrick

St. Patrick was not Irish (British), did not banish all the snakes from Ireland (Ireland has never been home to snakes), did not wear green (blue was his color), and he certainly did not drink green beer (if he drank beer at all). As typical, over hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling, his legend has become romanticized. Then in typical American style we began observing St. Patrick’s Day as a reason to celebrate, starting with Boston in 1737 and then in 1766 with the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. Even his birth name wasn’t Patrick, it was Maewyn Succat.

Only recently have I learned who St Patrick was and the truth is much more amazing than any of his fables or myths. He was a survivor of human trafficking, having been captured as a slave by Celtic pirates and sold to an affluent Druid chief. His captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast where sailors took him back to Britian and his family. He matured to be a humble man who became a role model by finding God. He studied for the priesthood, was ordained a Bishop, and shared his faith with the entire nation of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day is about faith, not folklore.

It was in Ireland, during his formative years spent in captivity as a shepherd slave, when Patrick realized the ramification of his sins and lack of faith. He repented, turned his heart to Jesus, and spent time in prayer with God. Although they were hard, lonely years, they were not wasted. He became so well acquainted with his Savior during this time, instead of hating the people who kept him captive, the love of God overflowed in his heart for them. Having been called by God in a dream, he went back to the very people who had enslaved him and abused him for years, so he could bring the wonderful news of the Gospel to them.

Patrick strongly believed Christianity is for all people and for the benefit of the whole community. He spent most of his time with those who were isolated and downtrodden. Meeting them where they were and accepting them for who they were. This often led to conflict with the people who oversaw his ministry because of the amount of time he spent with the people instead of attending to administrative and priestly duties.

Patrick incorporated traditional rituals into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross. This made veneration of the symbol more natural to the Irish. He used clover, or a shamrock, with its three equivalent leaves making one flower to represent the Trinity.

Patrick was never actually canonized by the Catholic Church. After becoming a priest and helping to spread Christianity throughout Ireland, Patrick was likely proclaimed a saint by popular acclaim. He changed his name to “Patricius” after becoming a priest. Patricius is a Latin word meaning nobleman. He was given the special title ‘Equal-to-Apostles’ in Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicism, a title bestowed as recognition of service in the spreading and assertion of Christianity, comparable to the original Apostles.

Hundreds of monasteries and churches erected throughout Ireland stand as Patrick’s legacy. It was through him; persons of every dignity were ordained as priests and bishops. During his time, as the Roman controlled lands went from peace to chaos, the land of Ireland moved from chaos to peace.

“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.” – “The Breastplate,” Patrick’s poem of faith and trust in God.

With St. Patrick there are several biblical parallels. Joseph was sold into slavery as a young man, David spent many years in the isolated life of a shepherd as a young man, Moses a shepherd in exile that escaped and returned to save his people. Moses fasted 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai and came back down to give the 10 commandments to the Israelites while Patrick fasted 40 days and nights on Croagh Patrick and came down to give the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland. Just as God used the difficult, seemingly hopeless periods of Joseph and King David’s life to prepare them for the work he had prepared for them to do, so too with Patrick.

In Psalm 119:164, we read David prayed 7 times a day and it is reported that Patrick prayed up to 200 times a day. In 1Corinthians 1:26-28, we read “God uses the weak and the foolish over the wise” and Patrick admitted he wasn’t a scholar of the bible but a “simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned.” Patrick preached baptism of trinitarian belief as commanded by Matthew 28:19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” As well as preaching Luke’s message of Acts 21:25, being counterculture to their practices, “…abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.”

What do we have in common with a 5th century Christian missionary who served Ireland? We have both been created by the same God, received the same gospel, and been charged with the same mission to spread the wonderful news of it to those who need it. We are committed to a vision of a world where freedom, human dignity, and equality are cherished; where our diversity of cultures is a shared vision of the dignity of the human person, created and loved by God.

We could use a St. Patrick today. Patrick was more concerned with how God viewed him and not what other people might have thought. We need Patrick’s example to live humbly, justly, faithfully and courageously. To stand for what is right and to do the right thing. We should be inspired to be powerful expressions of our faith and have his willingness to stand up for the down–trodden and the defenseless – people who have no one else to stand up for them. In other words, practice Micah 6:8, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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