March 16, 2017

Saint Patrick, the Apostle to Ireland

Saint Patrick

March 17th, is the optional memorial of Saint Patrick, the 5th century missionary and bishop to whom various miracles are credited. Little is known about his early years. He was born in c. 387 AD, a Roman Britain, at an unknown location. He died in 461, having successfully converted Ireland from paganism to Christianity. His symbol is the shamrock which he often used to elucidate the Holy Trinity. He ministered devoutly as the bishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland until his death.

Patrick led a difficult life, but his faith in God, once realized, never wavered. As a young teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates who forced him into slavery. He later wrote that his six years in captivity was vital to his spiritual development and drove him closer to God. He prayed often during his captivity; working as a shepherd. He remained a slave until his early twenties when he received a dream from God telling him his freedom awaited. In the dream, he was led to the coast and the sea. When he had a chance, a few days later, he escaped and ran to the docks where providentially he found a ship that delivered him safely to Britain.

Patrick was reunited with his family, became a priest, and continued his religious studies until he was ordained a bishop. In his memoir the Confession, he writes of a second vision in which a man appeared to him from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried several letters, one of which he gave to Patrick. It was titled: "The Voice of the Irish". Reading it, he imagined the voices of Ireland's people crying out to him saying: "We appeal to you, holy servant, to come and walk among us." This confirmed Patrick's desire to preach the Gospel in Ireland.

There are many versions of what happened next. Each recognizes that Patrick was able to spread Christianity throughout the Emerald Isle, build numerous churches and catechize the population over four decades. Returning to Ireland, Patrick applied his knowledge of Irish culture learned from his years of captivity. Using the traditions of the Celtic people, he explained Christianity in a way that resonated; brilliantly evangelizing the Irish. In his autobiography, Patrick gives this summary of his life, written in gratitude and humility: "I am greatly God's debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets."

Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461, in Saul, where his first church was built. One legendary account contends he was captured a second time between escaping his first captivity and returning to Britain, and held for some two months at a French monetary. Whatever is the case, his life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting laid the foundation for Ireland to become a bastion of Catholicism whose monks helped preserve Christian thought. He remains one of the world’s most beloved saints. Almighty God, who chose the Bishop Saint Patrick to preach your Gospel to the pagan peoples of Ireland, grant, through his intercession, that those who glory in the name of Jesus Christ, may never cease in proclaiming your wondrous deeds.

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