St. Patrick’s Day in America has become a day of wild celebration. The weekend was full of parades, and Irish pubs will do a land office business for the entirety of the week as Americans, with or without a drop of Irish ancestry in their blood, toast the Irish and wish each other luck.
Lost in the festivities is the person whose feast day we are actually celebrating. It’s unfortunate, because Patrick is a man worth remembering — particularly in today’s culture.
Born in Scotland, Patrick’s first trip to the Emerald Isle was as a slave. He had been taken from his home by Irish marauders when he was 16, and sold to an Irish Druid chieftain named Milchu. He was to remain there for 6 years, during which time he learned the language of Ireland and the beliefs and practices of the Druids.
After his escape, Patrick entered the priesthood. When the Church’s missionary to Ireland was killed by the Druids, Patrick asked to replace him. The Pope, St. Celestine I, agreed and appointed Patrick as bishop of Ireland.
The stories surrounding Patrick’s conversion of Ireland are filled with acts of courage and inspiration. The confrontation between Patrick and the high Druids at Tara would rival any Hollywood production — except Patrick’s story is real.
It happened on March 26, 433, which was Easter Sunday. The King of Ireland had decreed that all fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished on Saturday, and remain out, until the Druid signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The Irish chieftains and Brehons and Druids gathered at Tara to defy this new messenger with his Christian tidings. Patrick stood on the hill of Slane, at the opposite end of the valley of Tara, and in the darkness of Easter Eve, lit the Paschal fire. As the light from Patrick’s fire shone forth in the darkness, the druids cried, “This fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished.”
The king ordered his druids to extinguish Patrick’s fire, but despite every attempt, Patrick and his light remained unscathed. At daylight, Patrick and his companions began a procession toward the king, carrying a copy of the Gospels with them. The druids were unable to stop them, and the king granted Patrick free passage throughout the realm of Ireland. By the end of Patrick’s life, Ireland had changed from a country mired in Druidic superstition to one that became a beacon of faith.
A beacon that has never been extinguished, despite persecution. Even today, Ireland continues to stand against the culture of death in its refusal to accept abortion as the law of its land.
Patrick’s gift to the Irish was not luck, it was faith. His gift transformed a nation. The Irish were proud and brave and industrious and loyal before Patrick came to them. The faith that St. Patrick brought gave depth and purpose to the natural gifts of the Irish. A depth that enabled them to withstand the persecutions and famines that lay in their future.
A depth that carried the Irish who came to America through the years of “No Irish Need Apply”.
The contributions that the Irish have made to our beloved America are not the result of parades or potables. They flow from the faith that has been at the heart of Ireland since the days when a man named Patrick conquered the Druids on an Easter Sunday morning.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!