A Few Thoughts on Saint Patrick

Today is the feast of St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland. Of course as New Yorkers we are all too familiar with the day and its big parade, with all the Irish pubs decked in green and serving green beer. And of course we have Renwick’s great St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the heart of the city. By the way if you have not visited St. Patrick’s for some years it is worth doing so now to witness its recent cleaning and restoration inside and out. I grew up in Melbourne, another Anglo-Irish city, with a fine three spired St. Patrick’s cathedral (in basalt, the local stone, rather than limestone) with a parade tradition (although diminished in recent years). I have a memory as a boy witnessing the large St. Patrick’s Day parade through central Melbourne with bands, pipers, school kids, banners and all the rest and at its heart the ageing Archbishop Daniel Mannix, Roman Archbishop since 1915, and a famous Irish patriot, riding in an open car, with many of the crowd kneeling on the sidewalks as he passed! Them were the days!

But more importantly St. Patrick himself is a significant early Christian saint from the Fifth Century whose mission was to the Irish people. Patrick was of a Romano-British family and the son of a Christian deacon probably growing up on the north-west British coast. He was captured by Irish pirates and enslaved for six years. Somehow he managed to escape to Gaul (now France) where he received some theological education and was eventually ordained as bishop to continue missionary work in Ireland which was in its infancy. He made his home in Armagh (the traditional center of Irish church life and now the see of the Church of Ireland [Anglican] Primate). From there he continued his mission to convert the Irish to the Christian faith. Like most ancient saints he has a number of legends associated with him (driving the snakes out of Ireland and using the shamrock to teach the doctrine of the Trinity). However we can be grateful to St. Patrick for the hymn which we sing (Hymnal 360) known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate which begins:

“I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.”

I love the penultimate stanza:

“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.”

This makes a great prayer at any time. May St. Patrick and all the saints aid us on our Lenten journey.

Continue to have a good Lent.