Irish-born Anne Mesilio, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gibraltar, writes about St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland, who is venerated and cherished by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
“Do you dye your eggs green on St. Patrick’s Day?”
I was asked this question by an American lady last year and burst into incredulous laughter. She was more than a little miffed and looked at me askance! Her question was a serious one but asked out of ignorance I suppose and listening to silly excesses often associated with 17th March. Yes, rivers do get dyed green, beer too, faces painted with shamrocks, people dress in leprechaun fancy dress and so on, and whilst done in fun, in recent years this carousing and revelry has become excessive, masking the true meaning of the day. Sadly, it mimics Christmas, when the true meaning of the Saviour’s birth is hidden behind the tinsel and twinkling lights.
St. Patrick was real. Ripped out of the heart of his home (history does not quite agree where but Wales is most likely) by marauding Celtic pirates, he was sold into slavery and set to herding sheep and pigs on the wild open slopes of Mount Slemish in Antrim, N. Ireland, an extinct volcano 437 meters high. He was 16 years old. For six long terrible years, in impossible isolated circumstances on these steep and rocky slopes, he hungered for home and longed to escape. He turned to prayer and learned the language from the few Irish he came in contact with and developed a fondness for them. He did escape, and in a nutshell studied for the priesthood and when he was forty eight he had a dream in which he heard the Irish calling to him. He obtained permission from his Bishop and returned in 432 AD. Now, the Romans never conquered Ireland regarding the Irish Celts (with good reason!) as barbarians, and to this lawless country Patrick elected to return as an Evangelist. In my research I came across this: “Patrick wanted the gospel to grow in Irish soil, rather than pave it over with a Roman road”. Love the analogy!
Well, he had no paved roads to travel on and so for twenty eight years, with a band of disciples, he walked to bring Christ to the pagans, sinners and barbarians. He started at the top, meeting with kings and their households to set an example and he did have many converts. He is credited with Christianizing Celtic pagan festivals. The most famous example is as follows: The pagan festival of Ostara (Easter) was about to be celebrated and the High King had given orders that no fires should be lit before he, the King lit the great bonfire on the Hill of Tara. On nearby Slane hill, Patrick and his followers lit their bonfire before the King, he was furious. He sent his soldiers to arrest them and Patrick chanted a prayer that we now know as The Breastplate of St. Patrick, or a ‘lorica’ of faith, also known as Cry of the Deer, which allowed Patrick and his followers to pass by the soldiers undetected, as though they were a herd of deer.
I would urge a Google search for this prayer. It is a powerful prayer for protection, celebrating God who lives with us, sheltering us, guiding us, strengthening us and “is with us and in us through his Creation”. It was written in Irish and Latin and depicts the spirituality of the age which was arriving and flourished until the Vikings arrived in the 9th century.
Through his earlier experience of living in Ireland Patrick had the advantage of insight into the culture and this was a great help when he arrived as a missionary. Yet, it was not easy, the Irish Celts were known for worshiping idols and he and his followers had to run the gauntlet of insults, slander, imprisonment and great discomfort in this primitive society. His unshakable belief that Christ was needed here kept compassion alive and slowly he eroded pagan beliefs and Christianity began to take hold. He has said; “I cannot be silent about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity”.
He chose to become a missionary, not in far away lands as is often the wont, but in a land he knew, and near, which needed the message of Christ. Perhaps there is a message there for us, that like charity, evangelization can begin at home. The excesses associated with his Saint’s Day continue to concern me. I have no problem celebrating with feasting, but unfortunately the excess of public drunkenness is not what St. Patrick’s Day is all about. He left a legacy that would spread the Gospel in western Europe for six hundred years after his death. One such famous missionary was St. Columba who set out for Scotland 563 AD.
By all means wear your Green -I will-, eat, drink and be merry, especially as St. Patrick’s day falls in the middle of Lent and any Bishop may grant a dispensation in his diocese on that day, honestly! To those who celebrate, enjoy the day, and may the Blessings of the Saint fall abundantly on you all.
Beannachti Na Feile Padraig oraibh!
Source: Upon This Rock
Reproduced with kind permission of the author and editor
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