Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

Saint Patrick

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 44 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

Bishop, Apostle of Ireland
Patron of Ireland
Feast day: March 17
Saint Patrick's symbols: cross, harp, serpent, baptismal font, and the shamrock

The Life of the Saint

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

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Saint Patrick of Ireland is one of the world's most popular saints. Along with Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) and Saint Valentine, Saint Patrick's feast day is celebrated, or at least recognized, by many Christians throughout the world. There are many legends and stories about the life and works of Saint Patrick.

Patrick was born around 385 of Roman parents. His father had a position in the Roman government of the British territory. At sixteen, he was captured during a raid and taken to Ireland, a land of Druids and pagans. For six years he lived in slavery, tending sheep alone on the hills. During his captivity he learned the language and practices of the Irish people.

Though Patrick was probably raised as a Christian, he was quite ignorant of his Christian faith. During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote: "More and more my love of God and reverence for him began to increase. My faith grew stronger and my zeal so intense that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. Even in times of snow or frost or rain I would rise before dawn to pray. I never felt the worse for it" (from Joseph Duffy, Patrick in His Own Words (Dublin: Veritas, 1972).)

Patrick's captivity lasted until he was twenty-two. At that time, he was instructed in a dream, "Look, your ship is ready." From this he understood that he was to walk to the coast and return home. He walked two hundred miles to the coast, where he found a ship preparing to sail. After some reluctance from the sailors, he was permitted to board, and he sailed to Gaul, and then traveled to Britain, where he was welcomed by relatives.

The journey had been long and difficult. At one point, he and his traveling companions had no food. They mocked his Christianity and asked, "Why does your God not help you, if He is so great and powerful?" Patrick replied with confidence that the Lord would help them all. Soon after, they came across a herd of wild pigs and had a feast that lasted for two days. Some time after he finally returned to the arms of his family, he had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, "We ask you, boy, come and walk once more among us."

Convinced that he was not ready to take on such a task, he began to prepare himself for it. He began studies for the priesthood and was ordained by Saint Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, with whom he studied for years. Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop and was sent to take the gospel to Ireland. Pope Celestine I had originally assigned Palladius to the task, but he, through fear or death (accounts vary on this point), was unable to carry out his instructions. Saint Germanus then recommended his student Patrick to the Pope.

He arrived in Ireland on March 25, 433, at Slane. One legend says that upon landing he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after Dichu found he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly with Patrick.

Patrick began preaching the gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He defeated all who were sent against him, overthrew or banished the priests of pagan religions, survived many persecutions, and fearlessly and joyfully went wherever he was needed to spread God's Word. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and built churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity upon hearing Patrick's message.

According to a famous legend, on one occasion Saint Patrick picked a shamrock to explain to the king and assembled chieftains, by its triple leaf and single stem, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. As a result of Saint Patrick's teaching, the ArdRigh (High King) granted permission to Patrick to preach the fait throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.

Patrick preached and converted the people of Ireland for around thirty years. He would stay in an area just long enough to plant the seeds of a church, then move on.

By the end of his life, Ireland was almost completely Christian. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in his Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling, and enduring much suffering, he died March 17, 461 (although this date is not certain).

Celebrating the Feast Day

Instead of oceans of green beer and mountains of potato dishes, a family celebration should focus on the symbolism of shamrocks, snakes, and the cross. Remember to add prayers asking for the aid and intercession of Saint Patrick to your family prayers.

Read the life of the saint out loud, either from this book or from the many other excellent lives of the saints available in bookstores, libraries, or on-line. Explain Saint Patrick's trust in God and love of prayer.

Place a large shamrock at the foot of the family crucifix, and retell in your own words Saint Patrick's story of the shamrock: that three distinct leaves join together to make one leaf. Each is a separate individual; each is essential to the whole. As illustration use a potted shamrock; these are often available for sale in flower shops and grocery stores at this time of year. Making shamrocks from three green construction paper heart shapes is an easy craft for young children.

Explain that Saint Patrick did not actually drive all the snakes off the island of Ireland-like some exterminator on contract from heaven-but that snakes represent the evils of paganism. Saint Patrick did drive Druidism, paganism, and other evils out of Ireland, replacing them with the love and mercy of the Christian faith.

A game of Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders) can be a vivid way to teach this lesson. The ladders of faith and the snakes of error fill our lives, and it takes a steady gaze to the goal of heaven to guide us safely through.

Unless the feast falls on a Friday, shepherd's pie would be an appropriate (and Lenten simple) meal for a Saint Patrick's Day celebration, in commemoration of the years the saint spent as a slave-shepherd to his Irish captors and of Christ, the Good Shepherd of us all. Irish soda bread is also appropriate for this feast.