One of our national patron saints, St. Patrick is attributed with bringing Christianity into Ireland with many considering him to be one of the great evangelists of the Christian gospel.
Born in the 5th century in south-west Roman Britain (possibly Cornwall) Patrick was raised in the Celtic tradition on his parent’s estate. His capture by a marauding band of pirates while in his teens and subsequent enslavement in Ireland was an inauspicious first association with the country which would later claim him as its own. Being forced to work as a shepherd, was, he later recalled, a lonely existence; it was frightening because the culture of paganism and Druidry was alien to him.
With the bleakness of this existence threatening to overwhelm him, Patrick found himself turning to God for strength and refuge,
“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. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”St. Patrick’s memoir, “The Confession”
Some six years later he escaped and returned to his family in Britain, where he later received a vision of an angel telling him to return to Ireland. Prompted by this and his profound sense of calling and faith, Patrick trained as priest, eventually being ordained by St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre. It was then that he returned to Ireland where he dedicated his life to bringing the good news of Jesus Christ and setting-up monastic houses and churches, often using the shamrock to show how its three separate leaves resemble the Holy Trinity, the three aspects of our Creator.
As a Priest and later as a Bishop, Patrick remained unassuming and humble, with a lowly view of his own capabilities. He upheld his calling with absolute obedience, choosing to live among and serve his people so that he could share in the rawness and ruggedness of their lives.
Patrick died on 17th March 461 (hence his feast day). Pious, gentle, and caring, Patrick’s legacy is one of absolute devotion to and trust in God; his prayer, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, is recited by many of us as part of our own prayers,
“Christ be with me, Christ 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 in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger”.
Detail of St Patrick with a shamrock in a stained glass window at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier in Chicago. (Flickr, Public Domain).