Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

As everyone surely knows, Patrick is the patron saint of the Irish. Saint Patrick and Ireland are nearly inseparable - who can think of one without the other? However, this Fifth Century bishop and missionary to Ireland was actually Scottish!

Patrick was born near Dumbarton in Scotland around the year 387. He was captured by Irish plunderers when he was sixteen and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He spent six years as a captive in Ireland, tending his master’s sheep.(Ironically, he would later become a bishop and tend spiritual sheep.)

Patrick escaped slavery and fled back to his homeland. But his heart remained with the people of Ireland and he wished to return there to convert them from their pagan religion. After ordination to the priesthood under the tutelage of Saint Germain, and after several years battling heresy alongside that great saint, Patrick received his assignment from Pope Celestine I to preach to the Irish people and bring them the Gospel message. And the rest is history …

What makes this story so utterly “catholic” to me, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word (“catholic” means “universal”), is that, while Saint Patrick is claimed by the Irish as one of their own, he was not a native-born Irishman. He was Scottish. Now without a doubt, Saint Patrick has been so thoroughly adopted by Ireland that one would be hard pressed to convince any Irishman today that he is anything but Irish. The reason I call this “catholic” is the simple fact that we are all “adopted” into the Catholic faith and so become something we were once not. Just as Saint Patrick can truly be called an Irishman (and we all become Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day), so too we all become son’s and daughters of Christ through baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. This call is “universal” – it is meant for all peoples of all times and places.

I’m sure the great Scotsman, Saint Patrick, would agree.

So Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
(Traditional Irish Blessing – attributed by some to Saint Patrick)

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