I wonder how many people beyond committed Hibernians really know St. Patrick.
For many, the word associations might be parades, shamrocks, and green beer. Some might even think of local rivers artificially turned green for a day or two!
But Patrick, the man the day celebrates, offers us and our times much to think about.
Questioning the basics
I think most people know the association of Patrick with shamrocks. Not all would understand that he used shamrocks to explain the Christian belief in the Trinity of three persons in one God. But is there a deeper reason why he used shamrocks as a teaching tool?
I suspect many have heard that there are no snakes in Ireland because Patrick drove them out. Many realize that it is the stuff ripe for developing legends.
But I wonder how many know the millennia-long history of the varied use of snakes in world religions. The traditions are reflected in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The meanings and associations vary greatly depending on the specific culture and context.
Jow many know St. Patrick spent years as a captured slave in what we know as Ireland. After escaping and recovering from these years, he seems to have had some religious experience that called him to return to the land where he suffered so much. There he became a champion of social justice,
I wonder how many are aware of or wonder about the factors that led to the shift from celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in a religious context to emphasizing it as a celebration of Irish heritage.
A champion of social justice
Despite the trauma of his captivity, St. Patrick did not harbor resentment toward his captors. He voluntarily returned after escaping and recovering at home in a province of Rome
Yet, he spoke out against slavery and advocated for the rights of the poor and marginalized. His teachings helped to unify the various tribes that inhabited Ireland at the time.
“ I ask most of all that all the holy and humble of heart should not fawn on such people, nor even share food or drink with them, nor accept their alms, until such time as they make satisfaction to God in severe penance and shedding of tears, and until they set free the men-servants of God and the baptized women servants of Christ, for whom he died and was crucified….” (7).
A creative evangelizer
St. Patrick had a profound appreciation for the beauty of creation. In evangelizing, he often used nature such as shamrocks as a metaphor for spiritual truths. This spoke to the people of the land.
This can serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of finding wonder and awe in the world around us and of the ways in which nature can help us connect with the divine.
A path for a polarized world
St. Patrick offers us a way forward in the midst of our polarized times.
When we forgive those who have hurt us, we are not condoning their actions but freeing ourselves from the burden of anger and resentment. We are opening ourselves up to the transformative power of God’s love.
Saint Patrick also reminds us that love is not just a feeling but an action. Love means reaching out to those who are marginalized or forgotten.
It means standing up for justice and compassion, even when difficult or unpopular. I
t means embracing the diversity of our world and recognizing the dignity and worth of every person, regardless of their background or beliefs.
Does this Patrick challenge you to think about what needs to be done today?
The initial inspiration for this article came from Patrick Ahearn.