The phenomenon that is the celebration of St Patrick’s Day is marked the world over, with emerald green, merriment and cultural pride. And every year, while confetti, festivities and parades fill the streets, bars and pubs, I find myself evading or avoiding the noise and following instead, the footsteps of ancient Celtic voices.
St Patrick is one of my favourite saints, not because he supposedly rid Ireland of snakes or survived capture by pirates in the rough northern waters. It’s not even because he won an ancient people and culture for Christ. While the legendary Apostle to Ireland and great bishop figure stands strong, in truth, I love St Patrick because of his gratitude, humility and prayer life. Not much is known about his life, except that he was an unlettered sheep-herder as a young lad, with no family or friend nearby except God, in whom he would find his soul friend, his calling and constant companion. (I know this because I’ve read his letters: the Confession, written at a later stage in his life and the one To the Soldiers of Coroticus.)
In his Confession, he details his journey to Ireland, which was not the welcoming friendly place we associate the Irish with today. And in it, we meet a figure who despite all his trials, both physical and spiritual, remained wonderfully grateful as he “gave thanks unceasingly to God.” (Confession, n.46) Gratitude abounds in his writings.
St Patrick’s accomplishments in connecting with the pagans through peace and dialogue, and in converting among many, a princess of notability, were also retold with an immense humility. All he did, he claimed not for himself or by himself, but always by the grace of God:
“Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God, and you men of God, eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate. Who was it summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in the law and powerful in rhetoric and in all things” (Confession, n.13)
I have an image of Patrick, surrounded by great flocks, but sitting as still as a rock in contemplation and prayer. He says himself that he prayed a hundred times a day and through the night as a sheepherder slave near the Slemish mountain in Antrim.
I like to believe that this foundation of prayer became the cornerstone on which he rested through the rest of his life. I believe that this was what enabled him to do great works, which have led to his appeal to this day.
However you choose to celebrate this feast, let me share with you one of my favourite Patrician resources, in honour of this admirable saint. It hasn’t been easy to track down since I first came across it years ago, but after going through many videos tagged “Confession St Patrick” (which brought up clips like “Drunken confessions on St Patrick’s Day”) here it is, thanks to Catholic Radio Dramas.
I wish all a Happy St Patrick’s Day: to those of Irish/Celtic descent and those who count themselves interiorly Celtic. A special mention goes to our sisters in Ireland and the UK, where the FCJ society has been present and instrumental since the early years. This post is dedicated you. Thank you for your commitment, dedication and service.
May God and Mary bless you. Dias muire dhuit.
Celtic spirituality at its expressive best in a composition by Maire (Moya) Brennan in The Light on the Hill.