Next week we will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In contemporary American culture, this celebration can take many forms, including, for example, enjoying “Shamrock Shakes” at McDonald’s. But while enjoying such festivities, we can also take some time to reflect on the remarkable life of this patron saint of Ireland. As the contemporary edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints notes, Patrick’s biography is somewhat “obscured by later legend,” but nevertheless scholars are able to assert at least some facts about Patrick’s life with confidence, especially on the basis of Patrick’s own writings, his Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. (There is also a famous Lorica, or “Breastplate” prayer often attributed to Patrick, but his authorship is not certain.)
Patrick was born in Britain, probably in the late 4th century. His grandfather was a priest, his father was a deacon, and his family seems to have been fairly wealthy. However, when Patrick was a young man, not yet sixteen, a band of Irish raided his father’s property and brought Patrick to Ireland, where he herded livestock for his new Irish masters. These were difficult years for Patrick, and they deprived him of the opportunity to receive a proper education, a fact that he later lamented. But the hardship of these years also led Patrick to a newfound closeness to God. As Butler’s writes, “Nostalgia for his own country, people, and kin, plus loneliness and poverty and exposure to the harshness of the climate brought him to that degree of denudation where God alone is found to be the sole, inalienable treasure of the spirit.”
At the age of twenty-two, Patrick was able to return to his home county of Britain. Some time thereafter, Patrick decided to become a priest, and later was ordained a bishop. At this time he was called by God to return to Ireland to spread the gospel. There he faced many difficulties, but also found great success. Of this success, Patrick himself writes: “I am greatly a debtor to the God who has bestowed on me such grace that many people through me should be born again to God, and that everywhere clergy should be ordained from a people newly coming to faith.”
1. How are you a “debtor to God”? Name some of the graces God has bestowed on you this week.
2. Name an adult (besides a relative) who is a model of faith for you. How so?
3. Share one other fact you know about St. Patrick. (Look one up if you don’t know any others!)