“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many . . .” thus begins St. Patrick in his Confessions.
We are so accustomed to seeing St. Patrick as a larger-than-life Bishop, enlightener of Ireland, his successful ‘career’ behind him, that we forget his humble beginnings; we forget his ever–present humility:
“I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul’s desire.” He continues, “I am, then, first of all, countrified, an exile, evidently unlearned . . . I know for certain that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors in this world . . .”
Slave-to-bishop lacks some of the glamour of the more common phrase rags-to-riches. A rustic shepherd slave became the symbol of a nation. Somewhere along the way his account of his humility and faithfulness has mostly been forgotten. Now all too often his feast has become an excuse to get drunk. As we listen to our craic and eat our lamb stew or corned beef and colcannon, I ask you to remember the real St. Patrick, as described in his own words. This is the Patrick I urge you to get to know:
“But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God [. . .] and my faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day I said from up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number, besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain . . .”
Patrick didn’t live and labor in a vacuum. His effectiveness was fueled by prayer. May we emulate St. Patrick on his feast day by an equal commitment to prayer so that we also may say:
“I fear nothing because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God who reigns everywhere.”
Remember the real Saint Patrick today: slave and struggler, faithful endurer, servant of God.
The Confessions of Saint Patrick, courtesy of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library