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Saturday, March 17, 2012



Last evening, I discovered a new holiday to celebrate. I was at my favorite local establishment with some family members and friends to celebrate a landmark birthday when I spied a gigantic mug of green beer on a tray. While I'm sometimes a bit confused about dates and time (a fact my wife knows well), I was sure that St. Patrick's Day did not arrive until the following day. No sooner did that thought cross my mind and I overheard someone telling a companion why he was drinking green Bud light beer-the day before St. Patrick's Day is now known as St. Practice Day.

My immediate reaction was an undetectable eye-roll and a silent "whatever" as I shook my head and made my way back to the table. In a more reflective moment later in the evening, I found myself wondering how many people celebrate St. Patrick's Day with very little idea as to the significance of this man's life. Until the resident historian in our home filled me in a few years ago, I have to admit that I knew virtually nothing except that he was an Irish saint. As you can guess, someone close to me set me straight on that misinformation right away!

With all that as mere backdrop for this entr

y in the "Voices of Freedom" travelogue, I would like to give you a glimpse into an extraordinary life-the life of a man who literally became the messenger of true freedom to the Irish people.

By way of introduction, suffice it to say that there is very little firsthand information available about the life of St. Patrick. His original writings consist of two documents, the Declaration and Confessions and neither one is a detailed historical account. What looms large in these works is his passion for the people of Ireland and his perseverance in the propagation of the message. What makes his story intriguing is the way it began and the turn of events which led to the answer to the call of God on his life.

Born in Roman Briton to a distinguished family, his given name was Patricius. He lived a disciplined and orderly life under the authority of Rome in the area of Cumbria on what is now the British Isles. At the age of 16, his world was upended by Irish rogue pirates who captured the young man and hauled him off to Ireland.

For the next six years, he served as a slave and spent his days and nights often without adequate food and clothing. Here in a foreign land with little hope for rescue or escape, he began calling out to the God of his upbringing-the God of Christianity. He became fluent in the Celtic tongue which would serve him well in his later work.

It was here that his heart was converted and true faith formation began. Like David from ancient Hebrew times, he learned to pray without ceasing because his desperate need was before him at all times. Tradition says that he heard an angel's voice urging him to escape and return to his homeland.

He was able to do so, but no sooner did he arrive home he shared his vision and call to return to Ireland to share the Good News of Redemption and freedom. After serving as an apprentice to a missionary and the necessary education to become a priest, he began the journey back to Ireland. Eventually after the death of Bishop Palladius was assigned to Ireland, he received ordination from Pope Celestine and was sent back to Ireland as her Apostle.

Upon his return, he immediately paid the ransom price of a slave for his freedom to his former master and shared with him the gospel message. For the Irish people, this was a message that reached in to the very core of their culture and Patrick knew he must first reach the kings and local leaders and the people would follow. Theirs was a very spiritual culture but devoid of any significant Christian influence.

Locked in a centuries old maze of folklore and superstition, the only guidance came from the druids who were local equivalents of a priest. They held sway over the villages using fear tactics and force.

Consequently, outsiders (and even the former bishop) had little success to penetrate this island with either the progress of Western Civilization or the hope of Christianity.

This translated into a society cut off from the influences of Western Civilization such a short distance away in Briton where education and rational thought had given way to progress and a degree of economic prosperity.

When local leaders met Patrick with his message of faith in a reasonable and rational God who could be known and trusted , a settled confidence in the promise of eternal life transformed the lives of individuals. As the Irish people began to turn from superstition and a reliance on the whims of capricious deities, they were free to do what was necessary to move in the direction which would transport them to exercise choice, creativity and conscience.

Later in the development of monasteries and cells across Ireland and surrounding islands, important work was accomplished in places like Iona where Scriptures were copied and preserved through the ages. These havens created space for learning and commerce which had far reaching effects throughout the medieval times and into the middle ages.

Patrick and his converts were known for their strength in doing battle with the strongholds of paganism in this country now known for a long history of faith-based struggle and conflict. One of the most famous of Patrick's original writings is a verse from the lengthy prayer known as the Lorica

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

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.

If this is what St. Patrick's day commemorates-the life of man who did battle with primarily the shield of faith as his defense and the power of prayer as a weapon, perhaps St. Patrick's day should have a little different focus.

At the very least one should consider drinking Irish beer.

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