With ‘Patrick’ for a middle name it only makes sense that I have some celebrations planned for later this week. St. Patrick is indeed a man worthy of celebrating, whether with a pint of green beer, a shamrock or three pinned to one’s hat, or a jig and a song. ‘Tis a great day to be sure, a day for parades and parties and prayers – and not a few broken Lenten fasts! But where did we get this celebration and what’s really true about St.Patrick?
To begin with, we should remember that St Patrick was not Irish… he was English (well kind of – Welsh would be more like it). While it’s true that the Irish saved civilization by exporting the Faith back to Europe in the Middle Ages, the Faith came to the Irish from a deeply rooted Christian society that developed long before – in England. Patrick was kidnapped and carried to Ireland where he lived as a slave. While there, he recalled the Gospel he’d heard – and despised – and turned to God. Eventually he escaped and came back to his home and parents, a new man. That would be a good enough story, but God called him back to the people who first enslaved him to share Christ with them. After a lengthy delay, he returned to Ireland and succeeded in spreading the message of Jesus throughout the Emerald Isle. The Faith was there before him, but he served to unify a fledgling movement and inspire a new generation of ardent and courageous disciples.
He also didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland. That legend is quite lovely though. A bit like St George slaying the Dragon, its a way of saying that the man and his message turned a nation around by turning back the darkness. I hate to say it, but he probably didn’t teach the Trinity by the use of a Shamrock either (it would be heretical to do so!). St. Patrick was certainly big on the Trinity, as his writings atest.
I suspect we all have a bit of St. Patrick about us, together with some of the problems his work called him to overcome. Like St. Patrick we can all ignore the Gospel for a season, but eventually we find ourselves to be slaves and in need of liberation. We may even find ourselves called to bless the very people who may have most deeply wounded us. We are certainly called to share God’s Love with others and inspire the next generation with Faith and Hope. We also have some dragons that need slaying and snakes that need to be crushed. We have our idols: we often end up with a god that dislikes the same people we despise and supports our politics – a sure sign that what we call ‘God’ definitely isn’t.
St Patrick was the grandson of a Priest, and the son of a Deacon. He was wayward for a while, but like St. Augustine found his heart captured by the supreme beauty of God’s grace and gave his life for God’s message and people. That’s definitely parade worthy. Happy St Patrick’s Day!