By Charles Johnston:
St Patrick is one of the most popular and well know saints, at least in the United States. His feast day is celebrated in almost every city in America, with parades, dinners, and drunken festivities. He’s celebrated by not only the Irish diaspora, and not only by Catholics, but by just about every group (in varying ways and levels of enthusiasm) across the racial and religious spectrum.
Why is he so popular? Is it because of his mission as apostle to Ireland? Is it because of the love that he showed to the Irish people? Maybe it’s for the obedience with which he submitted to Christ? Or the stories of him banishing snakes from Ireland?
I’d venture a guess to say that it’s none of the above. Most non-Catholics don’t know any details of his life, and probably not many Catholics themselves either.
If you were to commission a poll, and ask what is Saint Patrick’s Day famous for, the top answer would be “patron Saint of binge drinking,” and that is a crying shame.
My Fondness for Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, long before I became Catholic, and even years before I believed in the Communion of Saints.
Why did I love this holiday so much?
Was it because I’m half Irish? I guess that may have played into it, but it wasn’t really the primary factor.
I don’t drink, so being a drunken festival wasn’t really a draw either. Regardless of your own opinions on alcohol, I think all of us can or should agree that the drunken festivities that surround Saint Patrick’s Day parades and parties are not honoring the memories of such a great man of God, and bishop of the Church. It reminds me of the terrible display of hedonism that is put on display for “Catholic” holidays like Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, and carnival in Brazil. It’s time that religious holidays were treated with more of the reverence that they deserve.
Was it the banishment of snakes from Ireland? This one just makes me laugh. I’ve never been to Ireland so I don’t really care if there are snakes there or not. I also don’t mind snakes, they’re just another animal to me, but if you have ophiophobia then this may be a bigger deal for you. Had he banished spiders from America then I’d be a lot more excited!
Was it because I was born in New York City, who’s patron Saint is Saint Patrick? No that also wasn’t the reason, mostly because I only discovered this recently. But it does increase his already lofty standing in my opinion.
Was it the corned beef, the most delicious way of preparing meat known to mankind? Even though corned beef is my favorite of all the beefs, both as a sandwich in a Jewish deli or as a plate with cabbage and potatoes, this also wasn’t why I revered Saint Patrick’s Day. (Although it is a close second)
Many years ago I read a book, a book written by Saint Patrick himself and called Confessions, that made me want to find out more about this man that’s so universally celebrated.
What I found was an example of obedience to God, and forgiveness shown to his fellow man, that we’d all do well to emulate. I saw Saint Patrick as more than the patron Saint of corned beef, green beer, and shamrocks.
When talking about the Communion of Saints we tend to focus on one part, thier intercession and either forget or ignore thier powerful witness to holiness and example of Christian living.
So let’s take a moment and look at the life of Patrick, the man, the bishop, the Saint.
Born in England
One of the first things that surprises people about Saint Patrick is that he wasn’t Irish.
Born around the end of Roman rule in Britannia, modern day England, at the end of the 4th century, he was the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. Despite this Christian patrimony, Patrick wasn’t a believer.
It would take adversity for Patrick to come to faith. His story shows us that all suffering isn’t in vein, that suffering always has value if we know where to look for it. (See God’s will and suffering)
Sometimes the only way the Good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them
Archbishop Fulton J Sheen
Around when he was 16 he was captured by Irish pirates, taken to Ireland, and sold into slavery. It was during this time that Patrick turned to the faith of his fathers and experienced a conversion of heart.
He would later write in his confessions,
The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn.
(Confessions of Saint Patrick)
After around 6 years of captivity he made his escape, and through a series of miraculous events, made it back home to his parents.
At home that he would constantly dream of the land where he was a slave, and the people who owned him as if he were an animal. But it wasn’t with malice or spite, it was out of love that he’d eventually return to Ireland.
A Model of Forgiveness
One day he had a vision, he was being called to return to Ireland and preach the Gospel;
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
(Confessions of Saint Patrick)
This is where Patrick’s story really cuts to my heart. If he had just said no, if he had refused to return to a land and people that had treated him so terribly, I don’t think anyone would blame him.
That would be the reasonable, and fully human response, but Jesus called us to love as God loves, and that’s a very high bar.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Patrick answers this call to a higher love, he answers the call to love his neighbor as himself. (Matthew 22:39)
Even though he wasn’t Irish, so they weren’t technically his neighbors, Patrick understood that Jesus had expanded the definition of neighbor to include all of those made in the image and likeness of God.
Patrick loved Christ, and allowed this love to transform him into the Apostle of the Irish. Through his love and obedience an entire nation was converted.
Refocus His Feast Day
Let’s make an effort this year to refocus Saint Patrick’s feast day into a celebration of one man’s faith, love and forgiveness that would change the course of a nation.
Let’s take a moment to study his life, so that we can emulate his love for his fellow man, and let his example inspire us to share the Good News of Christ with others. And let us pray that we can be as merciful to those who’ve hurt us as Saint Patrick was to the people of Ireland.
A prayer that is traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick is called the Lorica of Saint Patrick, and it’s a beautiful reminder of the power of faith and love. Legend says he wrote this prayer before his successful attempt at converting one of the kings of Ireland,
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today,
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today,
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today,
through The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today,
through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me,
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.
I summon today All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
St Patrick the Apostle of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh, Enlightener of Ireland, Patron Saint of New York City, Primate of all Ireland, and most importantly Exhibitor of the mercy of God, pray for us.