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PATRON OF IRELAND

Father Francis's picture
Saint Patrick

“We ask you, boy, come and walk once more among us”. This was the shout of the Irish people heard in a dream that must have filled Patrick with dread, for in 403 Irish raiders had carried him to their own country as a slave.

While looking after his master’s herds near Ballymena in Antrim he first learnt to pray. He escaped in a ship which was taking dogs to Gaul and there he became a disciple of St. Germanus of Auxerre, studying also at the monastery of Lerins.

For about 15 years he lived abroad until he had the dream but Ireland must have been the last place he wanted to go. He returned to the land of his slavery as a missionary in the year 432 after St. Germanus had ordained him bishop. Then at Tara in Meath he confronted the King with the Christian Gospel and converted the king's daughters. He confounded the druids and threw down their pagan idol, although he tells us that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again. But in 444 he established his bishopric at Armagh and with this city as his base he placed the organisation of the Irish church on a sure foundation. He died in the year 461 at Saul on Strangford Lough, Downpatrick.

Despite his initial hardships Patrick marvelled at the avid way the people of Ireland took to the faith. The spread of the Church in this pagan land was nothing short of phenomenal, due to the grace of God and Patrick's gift of teaching and communicating. He used the shamrock, the national emblem, as a visual aid to teach the greatest mystery of our faith, that of the Blessed Trinity, because it has three tiny leaves on one stem.

His three outstanding characteristics have to be humility, gratitude and devotion to prayer. "I was not at all worthy to receive so much grace among these people. The Lord indeed gave much to me, his poor slave, more than I ever hoped for or considered." He described his success as a gift of God and was grateful to Him that so many people were given the gift of faith.

He prayed constantly day and night. His well-known prayer - St. Patrick's Breastplate - is testimony of his love for Christ. He wanted to be completely imbued and surrounded by Him.

Patrick can be numbered among the great missionaries of the Church. Over the centuries his example has inspired many priests and religious to take the faith to other countries. We in Britain can never overestimate the sacrifices of the many Irish priests and nuns who have helped to spread and consolidate the faith in our country.

Patrick achieved so much because he trustfully placed his life in God's hands. He was willing to go wherever God led him whatever the dangers and hardships. So often we fail to realise that the difficulties and obstacles that come our way are gifts from God, opportunities for growth in holiness. Let us ask Patrick to give us a great devotion to the Blessed Trinity and obtain for us a spirit of prayer.

Saint Patrick, patron of Ireland, pray for us poor sinners.