This is the week we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! This year it may be without the green river in Chicago or the festive parade in New York City due to the ongoing pandemic, but there may still be some green beer consumed and at least a few people will be pinched for not wearing green.
I don’t know of a drop of Irish blood in me, but everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, right? I enjoy the celebratory mood and have always been fascinated by the history of the man celebrated.
Interestingly enough, St. Patrick was neither named Patrick at birth nor Irish! Maewyn Succat was born about 387 AD to a wealthy Roman family in Britain. When he was 16 he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and was a slave in Ireland for six years before he escaped. Instead of being bitter, however, he found God while in captivity and God planted in his heart a desire to share his joy in the Christian faith with the Irish—the very people who captured him.
After years in the Catholic Church back in England he was dubbed St. Patrick in his fifties and was commissioned bishop to Ireland. He faced many obstacles when he returned to Ireland, but eventually his messages of God’s love won over kings, chiefs, and whole clans. He won the hearts of the Irish people through his missionary efforts to rid Ireland of slavery and human sacrifice. The grateful people mourned his death on March 17, 460 AD.
That’s the true story, but the myths abound as well, don’t they? It’s said that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, but since snakes weren’t native to Ireland those may have been metaphorical “snakes” representing the pagan religions that practiced human sacrifice. The three-leafed shamrock is Ireland’s national flower and it’s said that St. Patrick used it to illustrate the Trinity to his listeners. Then there’s the wearing of the green—maybe just a tip o’ the hat to spring, the shamrock and the old Irish flag.
I’ve always loved The Breastplate Prayer of St. Patrick, one version of which reads in part:
Christ be with me, Christ 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 in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Certainly St. Patrick’s prayer is as applicable in our day as it was in his. So it is well and good to celebrate his faithful life with all the divine joy in which he believed.