The 17th of March comes and all seem to know St. Patrick is being celebrated. Not only in America from coast to coast, but in all parts of the world is the “green” is showing. Green is the color of hope, springtime, and new growth. Truly, St. Patrick gave the green land of Ireland the hope which Pope Benedict XVI speaks about in Spe Salvi. The 17th of March in 461 is supposedly when St. Patrick died. And throughout the streets in other parts of the world, people are celebrating the man who converted Ireland. Hopefully, it is more than celebration with food and drink but a profound effort to imitate this special man in the ways of holiness and prayer, to strive to live a better life as the saint was convinced to do when he was kidnapped and made a slave at the age of 16, and soon converted to Christ.
St. Patrick Celebrated Worldwide
Japan has captured the spirit of St. Patrick in many places. A nineteenth-century nomad migrated to Japan one day and a century later, Irish engineers, business people, teachers and others began to enter Japan en masse during troubled economic times and geared the country into the 1980s forward trend of technological advancement. About one hundred Irish teachers go to Japan each year, some studying and some visiting. No matter what the reason, the Irish “green” has rubbed off onto the Japanese culture. Many of these Irish remain and even marry Japanese. It is a tale of reciprocity whereby Irish establish businesses in Japan and vice versa. Irish music dance groups and schools have rooted themselves in Japan along with a Gaelic athletic association and the establishment of many Irish pubs. “With a bit of luck” and even more, interest in what St. Patrick did in the 5th century in Ireland and his Christian ways will wear off on the world wherever he is celebrated.
And he is feted in Russia, South America, Asia, Australia and many other places. Everyone wants to be distinguished as Irish during his special day. Not only Christians, but non-Christians are involved in parades, activities, and Irish drink and food. Ireland’s national cricket team defeated Pakistan and took them out of the tournament in their Second World Cup match.
Over 500,000 people attended the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade. Chicago boasts of the largest parade that day which is watched by over two million. The Charitable Irish Society in 1737 cast the first St. Pat’s parade in Boston. In 1762, Irish soldiers in the British army marched through New York, heralding the parade there. Montreal held its 183rd consecutive parade in 2007. The largest parade in the Southern Hemisphere is said to be in Sydney, Australia. It seems that whether it is beer or food, there has to be a dying of it green or wearing a green shamrock as a reminder that it is really St. Patrick’s Day. Yet, there are many places that place Mass first, before secular celebrations.
St. Patrick’s Writings
One may wonder why such tribute is given to the man St. Patrick. There is good reason if we examine his life and his preservation of Western classical civilization in the many monasteries he started. The missionaries smuggled the classical literature into Ireland from southern Europe. Thanks to them, we still have our Western patrimony today.
St. Patrick started out as a Christian, but he has this to say in his “Confession”–“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Clapurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae…” He may have been born in Scotland or Britain.
Britain was romanized by the conquering Julius Caesar in 55 A.D. And when the barbarians infiltrated Europe, Ireland was left isolated. Therefore, a good atmosphere was available for study classical Latin and Greek writings were smuggled in, for monks to copy and preserve for posterity. Ireland was ruled by slave traders and Druid chieftains who religiously practiced human sacrifice, as well as fighting amongst themselves. Patrick would come there again after escaping his six-year captivity, feeling called back because of a dream that came from God after his conversion. He would not only convert thousands but establish monasteries where his monks could preserve the Western culture that barbarians throughout the Romans Empire were destroying.
St. Patrick says initially that it was “there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God…” He became a “new man” spiritually after “my spirit was moved so that in a day I said from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number.” Patrick writes that “I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
God, he writes, showed him in a dream that he was to escape his enslavement of tending pigs for six years and board a ship 200 miles away to come back to his homeland which he cherished. During this time, he learnt to be a deacon and ultimately became a bishop. He spent six years under St. Germanus in preparation for going back to the fierce and fearful land of Ireland. This second dream revealed that he was supposed to convert the people of Ireland and show them the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who had first of all set the flame of love and desire in his own heart, by which he would explain to the people by using the shamrock (God was One, but yet three persons).
His second dream recalled him back to Ireland away from his beloved family, whom he would never see again. “I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter…’We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’”
His “Confession” is very scriptural. It is almost like St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and the Letters of St. Paul, except it is much shorter. His love of the Bible is even revealed in his “Letter to Coroticus”. Coroticus was rebuked by Patrick for taking away many of the people who had been baptized into slavery and debauchery. Patrick severely rebukes the heathen Coroticus and his soldiers for their evil works, for their allying themselves to the Scots and the apostate Picts. Many of the baptized had been put to death.
He pleads with the heathens and states further that “it is not permissible to court the favor of such people, nor to take food or drink with them, nor even to accept their alms until they set free the baptized servants of God…through penance, with shedding of tears…” This “Letter” is an example of the many times that Patrick had to work with an unyielding pagan people, but won them over by the power of prayer and suffering.
St. Patrick Still Calls for Man to Convert
“The Most High disapprove the gifts of the wicked…He that offers sacrifice of the goods of the poor…gathered unjustly…” It was said that Patrick prayed when a priest had periodically raised himself in the air by some magical power. He fell to the ground the last time dead, and the people knew that Patrick’s God was true. King Loaghaire allowed Patrick to preach the Christian religion throughout the land. At Tara, he explained the Trinity with the shamrock. He escaped a spear thrown at him as he escaped in a chariot. Twelve thousand along with the king at Killala accepted his faith. He converted the two daughters of King Loaghaire. At Ulster, the chieftain Daire permitted him to erect a church which is still in Armagh today. Chief Ernasc and his son Loarn were instructed in the faith in the district of Costello in County Mayo. A church was built there.
He and his companions were chained twelve times and once sentenced to death. God prevailed and Patrick lived to convert more people. Patrick continued to pray, especially favoring Croagh Patrick or “St. Patrick’s mountain.” Benignus, the son of a chieftain converted besides many others including St. Auxilius, St. Iserninus, and St. Fiacc, the son of Chief Brehom. He faced death many times. At last, St. Tassach gave him the Last Sacrament. He died at Saul in 461.
Patrick today would rejoice in all of the celebrations with green beer and green foods amidst parades and gaiety. However, he is definitely saying that we must not forget the most important spiritual aspects in life and let the “green” wear off on our souls, that faith which brings us marching to heaven. We pray as Patrick did the “Breastplate” prayer—“Christ shield me this day, Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me…”
This missionary to the Irish is a man of hope. Without God, as Pope Benedict XVI stresses in Spe Salvi, there is no hope. Patrick lived his life as a man of hope. Prayer, action, looking at eternity, and reliance upon God and Blessed Mary for help brought him many conversions. His faith in God was his hope that drove him to extreme limits with wondrous results. He beckons us all today to follow the Lord, that the lack of faith in Europe (lack of church attendance, secularization, relativism, etc.) will be turned into a “springtime of hope".
The accomplishments of men like St. Patrick can rid the world by man’s indifference to God! What St. Patrick has inspired also requires our cooperation.
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