St. Patrick is honoured as the national patron and apostle of Ireland. Like most ancient Christian saints details of his life are uncertain. Scholars place his dates of birth and death in 5th century. Patrick is believed to have been born in Dunsbarton, Scotland, Cumberland, England, or in northen Wales. He called himself both a Roman and a Briton. At 16, he and a large number of his father’s slaves and ships were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd and suffered a great deal for about six years.
He escaped to France and returned to Britain at the age of 22 after undergoing a spiritual conversion. Going back to France again, he spent several years at Auxerre and was consecrated bishop at the age of 43. As a bishop his great desire was to proclaim the Good News to the Irish. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and probably responsible in part for the Christianization of the Picts and Anglo-Saxons. He is known for two short works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Letter to Coroticus, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.
In Ireland he travelled far and wide, baptizing and confirming people of the land with untiring zeal. His missionary activities brought him several troubles such as exile, kidnap and torture. He lived in constant danger of martyrdom which made him to call his work as “laborious episcopate”. Nevertheless Bishop Patrick was a most humble man who strived hard to convert multitudes of people who worshipped idols and unclean things. Indeed he not only Christianized Ireland but humanized the Irish. His existing writings brings out powerfully the moral and spiritual greatness of this humble servant of God. Many beautiful prayers and lyrics are attributed to him. Whether he authored them or not surely he influenced a great multitude of people with love of God and deep spirituality. The following poem/prayer exemplify St. Patrick’s love for Christ the Saviour.
I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
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 in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
This hymn is titled St. Patrick’s Breastplate, referring to breastplate, a piece of armour worn in battle. As breastplate protects the warrior against arrows and swords, Christ becomes protection in every spiritual and moral danger. It is in line with St. Paul’s writing “Amour of God” (Ephesians 6:11) to fight sin and evil inclinations, Bishop Patrick could have been thinking of prayers just like this one!
There are numerous legends are build around this great evangelizer and pastor. One of these would have it that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea to their destruction. Another, probably the most popular, is that of the shamrock, which has him explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Today it has become Irishmen wear shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
There is a popular legend that speaks of a dream or vision in which “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. Patrick understood the vision to be a call to do missionary work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition from those who felt his education is inadequate and he is unworthy he still accepted the task and went courageously to Ireland and met great success.
Encountering paganism and lack of civilization Patrick was emphatic in 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. Thus he laid strong foundation for Christianity in the land. For centuries Ireland remained a country that contributed a large number of missionaries to world especially to several parts of Africa. The Irish missionaries are known for great enterprise both spiritual and temporal. The following prayer of St. Patrick brings out his simple yet profound spirituality.
Dear God, Committed love is a sacred treasure I long to find the one who is mine.
I trust you will grant my desires for love – to love of myself ,
and to find love with my true soul mate.
I trust you will bring this to me gently and sweetly,
in a way that is completely right for me and my true love.
I give thanks for your presence, your guidance and your love. And so it is.