SAINT PATRICK OF IRELAND (c.387-461), bishop – Patron saint of Ireland and against snake bites
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Patrick of Ireland, the great missionary who spent his life evangelizing and converting the pagan Druids to the Christian faith on the Emerald Isle.
Much of Patrick’s life is shrouded in mystery and historians differ on the probable chronology of the saint’s life. Fortunately, he has left behind two documents, his “Confessio” and his “Epistola ad Coroticum (Letter to Coroticus)”, which describe some of his experiences. He was not the first Christian missionary to reach Ireland, but the principal credit for converting the pagan island and establishing the Celtic Church belongs to him.
Patrick is one of the early Church’s most amazing missionaries. He was born about the year 387 at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton in Scotland, and considered himself to be both Roman and Briton (a Celtic from the island of Great Britain). At the age of sixteen, he was captured by Irish marauders and sold into slavery, during which time he grew in his spiritual life, praying at least one hundred prayers each day. After six years of living the life of a sheepherding slave, suffering greatly from hunger and cold, Patrick escaped and eventually returned to Britain.
His heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry of the priesthood, so he set out for France where he studied in different monasteries. Being ordained a priest, and then consecrated a bishop around the age of thirty-three, he experienced a dream about which he wrote, “…all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him.
He understood the dream as a vision calling him to do mission work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition, he was sent to fulfill the calling he received. He arrived in Ireland in the year 433, and traveled to the western and northern parts of the country where the faith had never been preached, and he was able to obtain the protection of local tribal chieftains.
Because of the island’s pagan background, Patrick was emphatic on encouraging widows to remain chaste and young women to consecrate their virginity to Christ. He ordained many priests, divided the country into dioceses, held Church councils, founded several monasteries and continually urged his people to greater holiness in Christ.
Patrick faithfully spread the Gospel in Ireland for almost 29 years until his death. He converted many, and Ireland became a country on fire with the Christian spirit. Known as the country of the Druids, Ireland grew to become a country full of churches, from which missionaries were sent out into the world.
Legend speaks about Saint Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. Though the country is climatically and geographically isolated enough that snakes never migrated to the island, it is said that Patrick’s actions are symbolic of his stand against the Druids, since the symbols of snakes were used across the country in the Druidic idol worship.
Saint Patrick is famous for using the shamrock, a flower native to Ireland, to explain the Blessed Trinity to the pagans who had a difficult time understanding it. He explained that just as the shamrock has three leaves but is one flower, so the Trinity has three Persons but is one God.
At Saul (Sabhall) in County Down, Ireland, Saint Patrick was called to his final reward on what is believed to be March 17, 461. The clergy and faithful from all parts of the country crowded around his remains to pay due honor to the father of their faith. His remains were interred two miles from Saul, where later was erected the Down Cathedral near his final resting place.
We commemorate the feastday of Saint Patrick of Ireland on March 17.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, irelandseye.com/irish and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Patrick)
“God our Father, You sent Saint Patrick to preach Your Glory to the people of Ireland. By the help of his prayers, may all Christians proclaim Your Love to all men.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”