As I sat in Mass over the weekend, I realized how little I truly know about St. Patrick. For it being a holiday I claim to love to celebrate, I have failed to get to know the saint behind the celebration. In fact, I’ve done more research on St. Brigid than I have St. Patrick! Shame on me. I’ve even visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City countless times for Mass and a quick stop-in for prayer. I never visit NYC without going as it’s one of my favorite churches in the world!
This weekend, my Irish Monsignor pastor preached about the real St. Patrick. Not the secular drinking holiday, but rather on the heart and soul of a man whom we should truly admire for so many reasons. After realizing this was going to be one of those really good homilies, I reached into my purse and grabbed my pen and Moleskine notebook to vigorously take notes on what Msgr. Frank was saying about this man. So much of what Msgr. said about the life and faith of St. Patrick resonated with my deepest thoughts and feelings.
St. Patrick wrote a book called “The Confession of Saint Patrick,” an autobiography that showcases the truly amazing faith he held despite some exhausting circumstances. I must confess this was the first time I had heard of this book — which is a shame as I have now downloaded it to my Kindle app and realized what a prized possession this truly is.
In the book, St. Patrick openly talks about how aware of his sinfulness he is, feeling himself unworthy of God’s love and his vocation path. For this, it is good to get to know St. Patrick during Lent. I used to feel that it was such a bummer this “holiday” fell during Lent — especially if I gave up alcohol or something else that goes with the holiday. But after learning more about this courageous saint, I realized he is the perfect example of fortitude to emulate during this time of penance and prayer.
At age 16 while in captivity, he had a major conversion when he became aware of the grave state of his soul. Due to this, he became a man of prayer, dedicating his life to the Lord, seeking the Will of God by becoming a priest and working in Ireland for years to convert many souls to the Faith. Due to his preaching and miracle working, kings and peasants alike converted to Christianity, allowing for the growth of the Church.
In his “Confessio” he says:
It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.
Later on, he talks about evangelization and the need to share the truth of the Gospel with those you meet, despite your fears and worries about what they will think about you. Perhaps we all should consider this a bit more with the call from recent Pontiffs to engage in the New Evangelization:
In the knowledge of this faith in the Trinity, and without letting the dangers prevent it, it is right to make known the gift of God and his eternal consolation. It is right to spread abroad the name of God faithfully and without fear, so that even after my death I may leave something of value to the many thousands of my brothers and sisters – the children whom I baptised in the Lord.
Nothing stopped St. Patrick from prayer. He talks about how he prayed fervently one day, finding himself saying up to 100 prayers then deciding to repeat himself once it was finished. St. Patrick truly embraced the call in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing.” God spoke to St. Patrick frequently, directing his path; St. Patrick also speaks of Satan’s attacks on him physically, but God protected him all the while.
He is a wonderful example of humility, obedience and dependence on God. Which one of us doesn’t need more of all those things? St. Patrick attributes everything in his life to the work of God despite his struggles as a mortal man fighting the sinfulness of our flesh.
If you haven’t read his “Confessio,” I encourage you to do so. It’s a quick, yet very powerful read. Something to unpack for time to come.
So when you toast your friends today with a pint of lager or ale, remember the true reason for the day: we celebrate a man of wondrous faith and perseverance.
St. Patrick, pray for us!