Monday, March 17, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day

The feast day of the patron saint of Ireland usually denigrates into partying, downing green beer while consuming corned-beef sandwiches. It seems as though all of America claims Irish heritage this day, wearing bizarre green leprechaun hats and sporting shamrocks on T-shirts, pins, and even tattoos.

But the true story of Saint Patrick has nothing to do with green beer and leprechauns. First of all, we must remember that the word "saint" is derived from the Latin word for "holy." The saints are known for us as men and women of outstanding holiness, who surrendered their lives to God in loving fidelity to His will.

Patrick was born in northern England or southern Scotland in the early fifth century, and at age 16 he and many of his wealthy father's servants were kidnapped by Irish pirates. Patrick was forced into slavery and worked for several years as a shepherd. During the long nights of watching the sheep, Patrick began to turn to the Christian faith of his parents; he wrote, "And there the Lord opened my perception of my heart's unbelief so that I remembered my sins even though late, and turned with all my heart to the Lord my God." Several years later, he was able to escape to France and entered the priesthood, becoming a bishop by age 43. He received a vision from God, telling him to take the gospel to pagan Ireland which was ruled by various kings and druid "priests." Patrick went and with his gentleness and quiet faith, he was able to share the Gospel with several kings in the north and west, and they supported him against the druids, who were angry at their loss of power as Christianity began to spread. Patrick was able to organize Ireland into diocese, train many priests among the earnest young men of Ireland, and build several monasteries which provided education to the Irish poor.

Patrick reportedly used a shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity: three persons in one God just like the shamrock having three sections in one leaf. He stands out in history as one who recognized and accepted God's call, left family and friends, and took the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland, who had originally kidnapped and enslaved him. With great faithfulness he shared Scripture and the teachings of the Christian faith, converting chieftains and their clans, winning the pagan population to Christ, baptizing new believers, planting churches, and training leaders for those churches. When Patrick died, the church was firmly established in Ireland. St. Patrick, if he were able to speak today, would challenge Christians to reclaim this holy day.

Here is the famous Prayer of Saint Patrick, one that many of us should pray, at least once a year on the annual feast day of this most Irish of missionaries:

As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.
May Christ shield me today.
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,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone 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.

A blessed Saint Patrick's Day to you, and may we all follow the example of Christ and Saint Patrick in sharing the Good News with those closest to us, and discipling new believers to a deeper and more profound love for and obedience in Christ our Lord.

(Sources for this post: Saint-a-Day daily e-mails from, Florentine Lives of the Saints: Saint Patrick, with Prayers and Devotions, and Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman.)

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