Tomorrow, March 17th, is the feast day of St. Patrick, a saint who is celebrated widely not just in Ireland but all over the world. It is a day of celebration that is marked by parades, bands, music, costumes, green lights, beer, and rivers that are all a feature of the celebrations. Yet behind all these externals, there lies the story of a remarkable man who faced a truly daunting task: proposing the Christian faith to the pagan Irish almost sixteen centuries ago. So dangerous was the task that many questioned the whole point of going to where even the Romans had refused to invade; such was the uncivilized reputation of the Irish at the time. The outcome was one of the most remarkable success stories of the early Church, one that resulted not only in the Irish being converted to the faith but them becoming missionaries of the faith themselves. Here I explore how St. Patrick can help us approach the new evangelization, with the hope of the same success in the present as he enjoyed in the past. I also explore how St. Patrick reminds us of a fundamental truth of our faith: that mission matters.
Saint Patrick (c. 385-462) was born on the west coast of Britain in the late fourth century, the son of a deacon who also acted as a Roman curial official. At the tender age of sixteen, he was captured by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland where he was forced into slavery. Separated from his family and immersed in suffering, he came to know God’s friendship, to identify with Christ’s closeness, and to understand himself in a new way. After six years he escaped back to Britain and was reunited with his family, who begged him never to leave them again. It was a promise Patrick could not keep, for shortly afterwards, he began to sense a powerful call to return to the land of his captivity and to bring the Gospel to the Irish. He sensed this call in a dream with the words, “O holy boy, we beg you to come again and walk among us.” Patrick responded to this call, which he believed had come from God, to return to Ireland and began to preach the Gospel. In his own words, he explains why he returned to Ireland: “for the love of neighbours, sons and daughters”; because of his “zeal for God”; and for “the truth of Christ.” (Epist. 1. Patrick wrote two letters. The first is called the Epistola and the second called his Confessio.)
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