St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon, and it has made me realize that I haven’t done much to celebrate it in years except put on a spot of green. Most of the memories that I have of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are hazy at best, and involve drinking lots green beer and later having it come up for a return trip.
Since I am now of Christian faith, I decided it might be nice to find out what is known about St. Patrick, and what he did to become a saint. I was surprised at how inspiring St. Patrick’s writing was, as well as the impact it had on me. He writes in Confessions something that really spoke to me:
“Lord my God, who had regard for my low estate, and took pity on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son.”
To really understand this, you need to know something of St. Patrick’s life.
St. Patrick was born some time around 400 A.D. and raised in a wealthy family of Roman citizenship until the age of sixteen, when he was captured and sold into slavery. He spent six years in Ireland as a slave where he learned the local language, Gaelic. During this time he was mostly a animal herder, and spent his time in isolation. Conditions in Ireland were much harsher than he was used to, and he later wrote that in times of famine fathers would sell their children into slavery just so they would be fed. It was in this isolation that he turned his mind to Christ, and was soon a devout Christian. He escaped and made his way to England where he had a vision that compelled him to convert the Irish people to Christianity. He wrote in Letters to Corocitus:
“I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though some may despise me. “
St. Patrick studied at Gaul and was consecrated as a bishop in 432. He returned to Ireland and made his first converts in Tara, the seat of the high kings of Ireland. Though St. Patrick is often given credit for introducing Christianity to Ireland, there is overwhelming evidence that the faith already existed there before his landing, at least in some way.
St. Patrick is said to have used the clover as an analogy of the Holy Trinity in his teachings, explaining why the shamrock became a good luck charm and unofficial symbol of all that is Irish. It is also mainstay in Irish folklore that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, which is generally believed to be a metaphor for ridding the island of Druids, as Ireland shows no evidence of ever having snakes.
St. Patrick is credited with converting one hundred and twenty thousand people to the worship of Christ, and to have founded over three hundred churches by the time of his death in 461. Throughout his writings his zeal and energy for converting the heathen Celts is evident, as is his unending humility.
Even if you decide to spend St. Patrick’s day in a green beer haze, I hope take a minute to read over some of St. Patrick’s writings, and remember the real reason for the celebration.
A History of The Western World by Houghton Mifflin Company 1991 pp.196,293