If you asked your average person on the street about “Saint Patrick,” you would probably hear some loosely threaded together folklore on a proud Irishman, who taught about God using a shamrock, and drove snakes out of Ireland with the power of Christianity. We know so little about this important man of faith, despite the fact that so many of us were brought up on the idea that “Irish” and “Catholic” were synonymous.
This lack of knowledge can certainly be attributed to the little historical context we have on Saint Patrick. We are left with only two pieces of writing that are commonly attributed to him: his Confession and a letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. While it is difficult to gather exact historical timing from these documents, they provide immense insights into the Faith of Saint Patrick and provide many lessons for Catholics today.
Firstly, Saint Patrick teaches us that we can find time for God of our daily routine. Saint Patrick finds God while tending his herd, as he would took time for regular prayer. For Patrick, tending a herd and spending hours in solitude would have been daily activities and been nothing out of the ordinary. Rather than finding separate time for God, Patrick found the time in his normal activities. Today, Catholics justify a lack of time for God with excuses like “being too busy” and “not having enough time in the day.” Too often we spend time waiting for some grand sign letting us know that it is time for reflection—we rarely sit back and look for God in our daily life.
Secondly, Saint Patrick teaches us that we should have a willingness to say “yes” to God’s plan. While he was held in captivity in Ireland in his young age he heard the voice of God say, “soon you will depart for your home country again.” The voice returns to him and tells him “Behold, your ship is ready.” He took a leap at the voice of God and moved across the island until he found the ship that was prepared for him. He boarded and was taken back to his home country. The risk that Patrick takes in fleeing from his captor and taking flight for his home country reminds us of the importance of faith. In a time where choices are calculated and focus group tested we unfortunately rarely need “faith” anymore—a total willingness to put trust in God. Patrick reminds us that a dependence on faith is a key part of a relationship with God.
Thirdly, Saint Patrick teaches us that we are all called to evangelization. Saint Patrick did not believe that he was unique, or especially qualified to bring faith to people. The humble evangelist even referred to himself as an “unlearned sinner,” and tells us that anything good he achieved should not be seen as work of himself, but as a gift from God. Today, we give Saint Patrick the credit for bringing Christianity to the island of Ireland—no short feat. Yet Patrick himself does not believe that he is different than anyone else. In our daily lives, do we think about how we can spread the love of God, or do we believe that it is best a task left to someone else? Saint Patrick shows us that even people with the most unconventional pasts—a shepherd, a captive, a pilgrim—can play an active role in building the kingdom here on earth.
Saint Patrick’s day should not be seen only as a day for green beer, parades, and late nights out—though these certainly have their merits—but also as a day for deep reflection on the exemplary life led by Saint Patrick. As we go about our celebrations we should remember his lessons: that we can find God in our daily life, we should find time for faith, and that we have the ability to make God’s love a reality every single day.