March 11, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Patrick

John F. FinkTo the chagrin of some Irish people, St. Patrick was British. His feast is celebrated—is it ever celebrated!—on March 17.

Actually, Magonius Sucatus Patricius was a Roman citizen born around 385 in Roman Britain, possibly in North Wales, Scotland or England. Captured by Irish raiders when he was 16, he spent six years as a slave in Ireland, tending sheep. He escaped, walked 200 miles, and found a ship headed for Gaul, present-day France.

He was ordained a priest and, in 432 when he was about 47, was consecrated a bishop and sent back to Ireland. He spent the next 29 years, until his death in 461, traveling all over the island. He converted virtually all of the Irish people. He ordained many Irish priests, and carefully integrated the Christian faith with native Irish-Celtic culture.

“The Breastplate of St. Patrick” is well-known. “Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.”

In his book Confession, Patrick wrote: “I give unceasing thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the day of my testing. Today I can offer him sacrifice with confidence, giving myself as a living victim to Christ, my Lord, who kept me safe through all my trials.”

He wrote that he rejoiced to glorify God’s name wherever he might be, both in prosperity and in adversity. God worked through him, he acknowledged, “so that, whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God.”

God showed him how to have faith in him forever, he wrote, as one never to be doubted. “He answered my prayer in such a way that in the last days, ignorant though I am, I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of his Gospel, bearing witness to all nations.”

How did he get this wisdom, he asked, that wasn’t his before? How did he receive the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? He endured the taunts of unbelievers, he wrote, “suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.”

He professed that he wanted to remain among those people, even in death, waiting for the promise made by God. He was ready to give up his life, he wrote, without hesitation and willingly, for God’s name.

He said that he was deeply in God’s debt because God gave him the great grace that through him many people “were reborn in God and then made perfect by confirmation, and everywhere among them clergy ordained for a people so recently coming to believe.” †

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