Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a 14-year-old boy named Patricius lived happily in what we call England. He was a member of a ruling, affluent family until pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery.
The year was 385. Patricius worked as a slave tending sheep and other livestock until he was 20. That was when he escaped and managed to leave Ireland and return to his home in Roman Britain.
In “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Thomas Cahill explains how Patricius (or Patrick as we call him) felt a call to study for Holy orders. Patrick traveled to France for his education. After 14 years, Patrick felt ready to begin his ministry. Two stories have currency about how he was guided to return to Ireland. In one, God spoke to Patricius in a dream. Another account says he was lead by Bibliomancy or sortes. He opened the Bible at random and counted down seven verses. What he read convinced him that God wanted him to return to the land where he had been a slave.
Several chieftains ruled Ireland at this time, but Druid priests really called the shots. The spring equinox was a Druid high holy day. Only Druid priests could light bonfires in or around the high king’s castle on Tara.
Tradition has it; Patrick lit a bonfire on a hill called Slane in full view of Tara on Easter Sunday morning, proclaiming Christ had risen in Ireland. The king summoned his army and along with all his priests marched down from Tara to kill the man who dared to defy him.
Patrick proclaimed the Gospel to King Logaire and converted the king and half his army that day.
Patrick would go about Ireland the rest of his life, founding churches, making converts and baptizing new believers.
The monasteries Patrick founded sent students to the continent to copy, not only religious documents, but as much of classic literature from Plutarch to Socrates they could find.
When German tribes overran France and Italy, most of these documents were destroyed except for those safely tucked away in Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day is about a lot more than green beer and corned beef. Here is a man worth remembering and honoring. His courage and faith are inspiring. Without him, there would be huge gaps in the story of Western Civilization.
If you go to church on Sunday, you might sing “Be Thou My Vision.” It’s the story of St. Patrick. You might think about him when you sing “High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art” and feel the story echo down through 1,700 years.
March 17 is a day when we can all be a little Irish and there is nothing wrong with corned beef and cabbage and maybe a little beer – green or otherwise.
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