St. Patrick is one of those characters embraced by a secular world that has little interest and less knowledge about who he is and what he represents. There is much more to this spiritual hero whose death we celebrate on March 17 than green beer and shamrocks.
In some ways he is a perfect saint for this dangerous time; in other ways he is rather too rough around the edges. This 5th century Roman Briton was not particularly empathetic or compassionate. He would not have felt our pain or dried our tears. It’s more likely he would have told us to stop whining and suck it up when we complained about our suffering.
It took a combative and determined character to bring Christianity to pagan Ireland, especially for a non-native. Yet, he is credited as being the father of the Catholic Church in Ireland and, despite some contrary historical evidence, the first bishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland.
In his own Confessions, Patrick describes how he was captured as a teenager by an Irish raiding party and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped six years later and returned home. Later, he became a priest and went back to Ireland as a missionary. He was thought to be full of passion and natural charisma. According to tradition, he baptized thousands of Irish, converted many sons of local kinds as well as the daughters of rich families who often entered nunneries.
Accurate historical details of the life of Patrick are hard to come by, leaving an opening for a wide range of legends. There is, of course, his use of the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity. He was also said to have banished all snakes from the island nation, though this honour he shares with at least two other Irish saints. Numerous other miracles are attributed to him.
For moderns, Patrick’s feast day may seem little more than an occasion for binge drinking and pretending to be Irish. But his pugnacious spirituality offers a much deeper lesson for today. We, too, live in virtually pagan times, with Christianity under attack and its traditions despised. When we face hostility and misunderstanding towards our faith, we need the kind of strength and courage Patrick often prayed for.
In the celebrated Lorica of St. Patrick (also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate), he pledges fidelity to the Christian faith, especially the Trinity and, most of all to Christ.
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 down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
(excerpted from the Lorica of St. Patrick)
Christ becomes the armour to protect him and keep him strong against all adversaries. This March 17, may St. Patrick be a forceful reminder that Christ is at the center of our faith.
Joseph (Patrick) Sinasac is Publishing Director at Novalis. He has been involved with religious communications for more than 40 years as an author, journalist, editor and TV and radio commentator on all things Catholic. He continues to be excited by the commitment and passion of the Catholics he meets in his daily work.