Friday, March 14, 2014

The real St. Patrick

Our New England coastline is evocative of the emerald isle.

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, we wear green clothing, eat corned beef and cabbage; and some of us will even tip a few pints of green ale.

But why do we honor the patron saint of Ireland?

Patrick was born around 385, but biographers are unsure of the site of his birth in Britain, perhaps near Dumbarton on the Clyde, in Cumberland to the south of Hadrian’s Wall or at the mouth of the Severn.

In his spiritual autobiography, the “Confessio,” Patrick tells us that he was of Roman and British ancestry; and his father, Calpurnius, was a municipal official.

When he was a teen, Patrick was carried off by Irish raiders, who took him somewhere in County Mayo.

A slave, Patrick worked as a shepherd. He tells us he was lonely and afraid and that he turned to his religion for help.

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was raised so that in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same,” he wrote.

Six years in captivity, Patrick said he heard God’s voice in his sleep, telling him to leave Ireland.

According to his biographers, he ran away walking 200 miles, found free passage on a ship and spent three days before reaching land in some uninhabited country. But eventually he returned to his family.

When he was 23 years old, Patrick saw a vision of an angel in a dream beckoning him to return to the western isle as a missionary.

He also heard voices saying, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

After studying for the priesthood, Patrick decided to dedicate himself to the spread of Christianity in the places of his slavery.

He spent the next 30 years, traveling throughout Ireland founding schools, churches and monasteries.

Using native beliefs to teach Christianity, he superimposed a sun, a powerful pagan symbol, on the Christian cross, which became the Celtic cross; and he used the three-leafed shamrock to represent the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Patrick died on March 17, 461 and was buried at Saul on Strangford Lough.

One thousand, five hundred and fifty-three years later, we celebrate the saint’s day; and he continues to teach us:

“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
―St. Patrick

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