Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I have to admit that for most of my life, St. Patrick’s Day has been a secular party day. I knew some of the legends and revisionist history surrounding St. Patrick, all of which served to make it difficult if not impossible to discern the real person whom we commemorate on this day.
This afternoon, I’ve been listening to Al Kresta’s show as he interviews Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland: a Biography.
I learned something new and interesting about St. Patrick’s early life: despite being the grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, he was quite uninterested in religion and was a practical atheist. Then, of course, he was kidnapped and used as a slave in Ireland. It was his suffering during 6 or 7 years of slavery that brought him his faith. He said when he was older that his kidnapping and slavery were the best thing that ever happened to him.
Don’t you love reading Saints’ conversion stories? They give the rest of us such hope! St. Patrick’s story also shows how very good things can come from tragedy and suffering. That’s something I’ve learned first hand. So I now feel a connection with St. Patrick, not only because he’s the Patron Saint of one of my ancestral lands, but also on a more personal level.
He was guided to his escape back to Britain by miraculous dreams. After returning to his home and family, he began to have similar dreams about returning to Ireland to bring Christianity to the wild island, which at the time was beyond the Roman Empire and consider the very end of the earth. He resisted that mission for a while, but apparently God just wouldn’t let up, and Patrick gave up fighting. Heaven knows I also know what that’s like!
I also learned that St. Patrick received harsh opposition not only from the Irish but from his fellow British bishops—partly because the British did not consider the Irish worth saving, and partly because the exigencies of surviving and navigating the many warring factions of Ireland involved paying bribes.
Somehow, despite all these hardships, St. Patrick managed to baptize thousands of Irish, and within a few generations, Ireland was sending its own missionaries into the world and became known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. It goes to show what wonderful and marvelous things God can bring about when we follow His will.