Today we celebrate St. Patrick, patron Saint of the Irish.
But few people know his story…
Having grown up in the comfort and stability of the Roman empire, Patrick finds himself enslaved to an Irish King at the age of 16. Forced to work as a shepherd, he spends years roaming the mountains and countryside, shivering from cold.
He’s naked, alone, and hungry.
He starts to pray.
He’s never believed in his parents’ God (the God of Rome), but the more he prays, the more a burgeoning faith blossoms within him, and provides a sense a peace that steadies him against his ordeal.
One night he has a dream.
A voice tells him to get up, that a ship is waiting for him…
…That he’s going home.
He begins the unlikely journey that would ultimately lead him to freedom.
Upon returning to his family, Patrick continues to be preoccupied by the land where he was once captive. He hears the voices of the Irish, sees their faces. They beckon him to return, beg him in fact, with tears in their eyes. He seeks to be ordained by the church, and embraces the required study – no mean feat for a young man who lacks the years of formal education normally accorded to a Roman youth. Upon receiving his commission, he returns to Ireland to become the first active missionary to operate outside the safety of Rome.
He intends to confer Christianity upon the rag tag rabble of carefree warriors who inhabit Ireland at the time.
However, they’re about as likely to impale him as to hear him speak.
How does he do it?
How does he convert these stubborn, war-making Game Of Thronespersonalities?
In two ways…
First, he earns their respect with his courage.
(Thanks to his ardent belief, power and self-mastery emanate from Patrick like heat from a flame.)
Second, he tells them a story.
He weaves a narrative in which the virtues of faithfulness, courage, and generosity can exist in a peaceful man. He taps into their insecurities. In the chaos that is Ancient Ireland, calamity awaits in every patch of thick brush, or beyond every steep hill. Evil gods plot to torment humans for their own sick pleasure. He introduces them to a God that loves them, and whereby all things created exist to serve His providence – a God under which even suffering molds his most cherished creations.
No one is more qualified than Patrick to speak on this.
Finally, he liberates them from the fear of death by the promise of everlasting life.
And he does it convincingly.
Through sheer persistence, he frees them from their turbulent past, and ushers them into modernity as champions of culture. He forgoes anger and resentment, and fills his heart with love and compassion for his former captors. He devotes the latter half of his life to the island where he endured unthinkable hardships. And against impossible odds, he converts most of Ireland…those *barbarians* whom many of his contemporaries would just as soon forget. He spreads peace in an epoch of war, and shines a beacon on the better parts of their nature.
He inspires hope at a dark moment in history.
No matter what you may think of Christians or saints, it’s a remarkable achievement by one of the era’s great men.
He changed the world…by way of Ireland.
That is why we celebrate in his name.
And that is why, on this day especially, ‘tis grand to be Irish.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
P.S. This post is inspired by Thomas Cahill’s How The Irish Saved Civilization, whose account is much more detailed and utterly brilliant. I highly recommend it.