Although it is the great mans big day, I am not ‘Wearing Green’ because there is not a drop of Irish blood in my veins.  Nor do I think that there was any in his.  Herein there lies a problem with the Patron Saints of the British Isles.  Only St David of Wales can lay claim to be a native of the country that honours them.  St. George of England was probably from Lod, a town south-east of Tel Aviv.  St. Andrew of Scotland was one of the Twelve Disciples and certainly was more at home by the shores of Lake Galilee than the banks of Loch Lomond. lt was only his bones that arrived in Scotland by a circuitous route. St. Patrick was probably born in the Severn Valley or on the Welsh Border. Never mind, we all need a little outside help sometimes!

At the age of sixteen St. Patrick was captured by some Irish raiders who came over ‘on the ferry’ from Ireland to do a bit of plundering and pillage.  He was taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family.  While in Ireland he tended sheep and cattle and started to think about things, which is a useful occupation while you are watching sheep.  On his return to Wales he set himself to study and was ordained into the priesthood. Later he went back to Ireland with a dual mission – to minister to Christians already in Ireland and to convert the pagan Irish.  This mission contradicts the widely held thought that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.  In his missionary activities he chose to incorporate traditional Irish beliefs and rituals into his preaching of the Christian faith.  To celebrate Easter he used bonfires because the Irish folk were used to honouring their gods with fire.  He also superimposed the Sun onto the Christian cross to create what  is called a Celtic cross. 

As with most Saints, legends and myths have grown up over the centuries which have little or no historical basis.  One of the most popular myths attached to him is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.  As snakes were never native to Ireland after the Glacial Era, this tale might have grown up around his exploits against the Druids who were the ancient Pagan Priests in Ireland.  We ought to be ever grateful to St. Patrick for his famous parable of the Shamrock.  This he used to illustrate the Doctrine of the Trinity.  St. Patrick would hold up a Shamrock and challenge his hearers with a question, “Is it one leaf or three?” The answer he usually received was, “It’s both one leaf and three”.  Patrick would then conclude by saying “And so it is with God”.  “Thank you, St. Patrick”. All I will need for this coming  Trinity Sunday is a shamrock and the job will  be done!!  Interestingly in Texas, USA, there is a town called Shamrock, given no doubt by early Irish settlers. 

Most familiar to us is the hymn with the title, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”. this was translated by Cecil Francis Alexander in the 19th C.  Not the easiest hymn to sing in its original form, yet it captures something of the life of St. Patrick and speaks to all those who today journey with and for Christ.

“I bind unto myself today
  The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
  His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
  His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give my speech,
  His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
  Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
   Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
  Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
  Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

In celebration of the day I think I will go and dye my bath water green and sculpture a leprechaun out of the soap bar.

John R.


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