St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching. On March 17th, we celebrate the life of the Saint and all things Irish. Since I was born in Ireland, St. Patrick holds a special place in my heart. My ancestors also shared history with the Saint as my father’s family worked as St. Patrick’s bell keepers. Many people know the name of St. Patrick based on the holiday in his honor. But who was he, and what did he do?
History of St. Patrick
According to the autobiographical Confessio of Patrick, Irish pirates captured Patrick when he was about 16 and took him to Ireland as a slave. He remained there for six years before escaping the island and returning to his family in Britain. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland. Patrick served as a bishop in later life, but they know little about those years. By the seventh century, they revered him as the patron saint of Ireland. Many believe he died around the year 461 and the locals buried him in a town named Downpatrick.
Lessons from the Saint
First, I learned about his missionary heart. Even though he kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland, Patrick learned to love the Irish people. After his freedom, Patrick returned home to England, but he heard the Irish people calling to him in his dreams. Those dreams prompted him to become a priest and return to Ireland. St. Patrick turned life’s tragic events into a ministry of serving others.
Second, I learned about his beautiful way of explaining the Holy Trinity in simple terms. Patrick used the shamrock to explain this concept to the pagans in Ireland. He explained that the plant’s three leaves represented the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But even though the plant had three separate leaves, it remained a single plant. The shamrock later became the symbol for St. Patrick and for the Irish. To this day, many people still use this symbol to help others under the triune nature of God.
Finally, I learned how Patrick comprehended the importance of always keeping Christ close to him. His breastplate bore these words:
“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.” St. Patrick’s Breastplate.
These simple words speak a profound truth to us today as well. We must remain closely connected to Christ and see Him in everyone and everything around us.
Myths about the St. Patrick’s Day
One of the common myths associated with the Saint is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. Ireland probably had no snakes. It is more likely that it is an allegory for his eradication of pagan ideology—with snakes standing in for the serpents of Druid mythology.
Another common belief is that corned beef and cabbage are a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in Ireland. However, my family had never heard of corned beef until we immigrated to America. Irish corned beef was extremely popular in England in the first half of the 1800s. Still, it was far too expensive for rural Irish tenant farmers to eat.
St. Patrick’s Example to us
Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man whose love and total devotion to and trust in God should be a shining example to each of us. Yet, so complete was his faith in God, and of the importance of his mission, he feared nothing -not even death. So as you celebrate his day this year, please take a moment to remember the Saint behind the celebration and all he taught us about faith.
In honor of this Godly man, I leave you with an Irish Blessing as my prayer for you;
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.