March 2008 - St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland

St. Patrick of Ireland

(d. 461 A.D.)  17 March

Patrcius Magonus Sucatus, like many missionaries, was not a native of the country that he converted. He was born somewhere in Britain, the son of Calpurnius, a Romanized Briton, who was a Christian deacon. How Patrick first came to Ireland is a dramatic tale that he himself later recorded in his book of "Confessions." In 403, when he was about 14, he and some of his neighbors were attacked by wild pagan Irish raiders, and taken to Ireland as slaves. For six years, Patricius tended the flocks of his master in Ulster, Ireland's Northern Province. When captured, Patrick, by his own admission, was a careless Christian. During the hardships of his captivity, however, he learned the art of prayer, so that "the spirit was fervent within," despite his exposure to "snow and frost and rain."

At the end of the six years, Patrick was advised in a dream to escape and make his way to the coast. Patrick obeyed, and made contact with a ship owner, who took him to Gaul (now France). New dreams came to him in which Irishmen begged the "holy youth" to "come and walk among them once more." He felt that he could not resist that cry. So, he prepared himself to go back as a missionary by learning the ways of monastic life and seeking ordination to the priesthood. He offered himself to his bishop as a missionary to Ireland.  In 432, St. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, consecrated him a bishop and sent him to his adoptive people.

Bishop Patrick faced no easy task. A crucial achievement was the compact he concluded with the Irish High King. This gave him permission to preach in the whole island. He now proceeded systematically through all of Ireland's provinces. In addition to the physical trials of his journeys, he encountered strong opposition and threats from the pagans. As he went about, he organized churches and appointed regional bishops.

There was no doubt about Patrick's stunning success as a missionary. He himself writes of the "so many thousands" whom he personally baptized. He marveled at the generosity of their response; "Sons and daughters of Celtic chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ." He persevered to the end in his missionary career confident that the Lord in whom he trusted would protect him and his work.

In his last days, Bishop Patrick climbed up the stony heights of the mount called Croagh Patrick, and after 40 days of fasting and prayer he was shown by God the ultimate fruit of his labors. From that summit, he gave his final blessing to the whole Irish race. When he died, not long afterward, he was buried at Saul on Strangford Lough.


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