This month, we celebrate the feast of St. Patrick. Born in the year 387, Patrick grew up in the Roman province of Britain. He was captured at the age of 16 by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. And, despite the precarious nature of his captivity, Patrick managed to learn the language and customs of the Druid pagans who held him.
Throughout his captivity, the young Patrick would often turn to God in times of distress and need. Prayer became Patrick’s refuge, and he would spend hours in conversation with God.
Patrick remained in the hands of his captors for six long years. Then, in the summer of 407, he experienced a profound religious transformation. Commanded by God in a dream, Patrick was instructed to leave Ireland via the coast. There, on the rocky shores of the Irish coast, sailors caught sight of Patrick and returned him to Britain and his family.
However, a short while later, Patrick experienced another profound dream. In the dream, Patrick heard the cries of the Irish people, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.” And although it would be years before he returned to Ireland, the prophetic nature of Patrick’s dream was inevitable.
Patrick was not destined to stay in Britain for long — he soon moved to continental Europe and began studying for the priesthood in a French monastery. In 432, Patrick was ordained a bishop and commissioned to take the Gospel to Ireland. He reached the Irish shores for a second time on March 25, 433. Patrick would spend the remainder of his life in Ireland, converting the Irish pagans for the next 30 years.
Patrick’s legend spread far and wide, and by the grace of God, the saint converted thousands of Druids to the Catholic faith. He built churches throughout Ireland and opened the eyes of ruthless barbarian kings to the grace and love of Christ. Legend has it that Patrick used an ordinary shamrock clover to explain the mystery of the Trinity to the Irish people. Other legends depict Patrick ridding the island of venomous snakes. However, scientists now know that snakes never inhabited the Emerald Isle. But the story symbolically sheds light on Patrick’s evangelical mission — ridding Ireland of pagan religions, with the cross replacing the popular Druid serpent.
Today, 93 percent of Ireland is Catholic. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the day of his death. A holiday for all nations, St. Patrick’s Day has become a universal opportunity to celebrate friendship and good fortune.