by Keith Turman
Patrick seems a clear favorite. Even non-religious types will hail the patron saint of Ireland by donning the color green (pinching those who don’t) and raising a stein of green beer while feasting on corned beef and cabbage. I have pinched green-less garbed people on March 17 since elementary school days. One gets pinched on Saint Patrick’s Day for not wearing green because green makes you invisible to leprechauns, and leprechauns like to pinch people. Who knew?
A centuries-old legend gives Patrick the credit for ridding Ireland of snakes. After being attacked by snakes during a 40-day fast, he chased them all into the sea. Ireland is one of the few places in the world where Michael Blackburn can visit without fear. Most scientists agree that it was probably the most recent Ice Age, and not Patrick, that took care of the snakes.
Patrick was born to a Christian family in Britannia in 385 AD during the Roman occupation. Even though his grandfather was a priest, Patrick tended to live on the wild side of things. At age sixteen, he was abducted by Celtic pirates, taken on a ship to Ireland, and sold into slavery. During his enslavement, while herding cattle, Patrick had profound experiences with God and became a devout Christian. One night, after six years in captivity, he was instructed in a dream to escape to the sea. The next morning he was on a ship bound for England where he was reunited with his family. He trained for the priesthood and served as a parish priest.
Twenty-six years after his escape from Ireland, he had another dream that called him back! In the dream, an angel named Victor gave Patrick a letter from one of his former captors who wrote, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” So Patrick was ordained a bishop and appointed to Ireland as a missionary to the barbarians. He loved the Irish people, so he established churches and monasteries for thirty years until his death on March 17, 461 A.D. He is given credit for Christianizing Ireland, abolishing slavery, ending human sacrifice, and fighting for the rights of women.
In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill writes that “the papacy did not condemn slavery as immoral until the end of the 19th century, but here is Patrick in the 5th century seeing it for what it is . . . elsewhere he lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: ‘But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.’” Not long after Patrick’s death, slave trading in Ireland was abolished forever.
No wonder Patrick is loved. He could see people—for who they were—even if they were wearing green. And he had guts. He fought for them. He challenged rulers and risked martyrdom on a regular basis, so that people created in the image of God could live free. Truth be told, the 21st century still needs women and men like Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. So on Sunday, when I’m asking God to bless my corned beef and cabbage, I’m going to ask that God stir the whole lot of us, so that we too can see through the green.