Who is the Real Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick @thecathedralparish
Saint Patrick @thecathedralparish

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, which means that you might wear green, sport a shamrock, and perhaps drink a pint of Guinness. This expression of “Irish identity” is driven mainly by our materialist culture and the obsession that we need objects to represent our perceived identities. What’s unfortunate is that the real Saint Patrick is not even acknowledged on Saint Patrick’s Day. The holiday has become a mockery of the example he left for Ireland and indeed the world.

History books tell us that Saint Patrick accomplished three major things in his life. He organized Christianity in Ireland, converted the ancient Irish kingdoms to Jesus’s teachings, and he brought Ireland into the Catholic Church, effectively bringing the Irish into Christendom. While these are all important historical facts, there is more inspiration to find in the life of Saint Patrick.

When he was a teenager, Patrick was captured by Irish slave traders who were marauding around Britain, his place of birth. He escaped slavery in Ireland and returned home to Britain. Years later, he went back to Ireland to carry out extraordinary missionary work on behalf of Christianity, which had only barely left a footprint on the Emerald Isle. Patrick did not hold any animosity towards those who enslaved him, but rather he spread the good news of the gospel and won most of Ireland for Jesus.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin @CraigCons
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin @CraigCons

Patrick’s journey between Ireland and Britain is admirable considering that he was an unlearned and impoverish person. Despite these difficult conditions, he always had empathy for destitute people and groups in his society. He reflected the best of Jesus, who was gentle and humble in heart. Patrick wanted the pagan Irish and his enemies to acquire wisdom through learning and knowledge. To educate the Irish, he diffused knowledge of Latin into the ancient Irish language. This knowledge allowed the Irish to read and research the whole body of Latin/Christian literature. Only through these intellectual avenues could Irish society overcome its tribal divisions and promote justice and compassion. Patrick’s endeavors truly mirror my favorite Irish saying, “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

Patrick’s life gives us hope and inspiration even in the most difficult situations. As a slave, he was both hungry and naked, not having the means to buy his own food or put clothing on his body. The Irish patron saint also suffered much opposition from pagan druids, most of whom were not initially happy with his Christian spirit and teachings. By not allowing his unfortunate situation or opponents to get the best of him, Patrick provides an example of how to respond to adversity. He would want us to have the strength and faith to overcome even the darkest moments of life. Most importantly, he would ask us to turn to Jesus and find comfort and solace in his teachings and promises.

Saint Patrick is a role model for me because of his extraordinary courage and his ability to “turn the other cheek” to his enemies. In spite of his difficult experiences, he attempted to forge new and better relations with the Irish, a people who had once enslaved him. His example reminds me of the importance of forgiveness, a critical Christian value.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin @CraigCons
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin @CraigCons

So this is the real Saint Patrick. He was humble, fearless and an intellectual who wanted to bring people out of the darkness and into the light of Christianity. His influence upon the world certainly goes beyond the color green and alcohol. I hope you remember that on Saint Patrick’s Day.

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