People sure do love to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in New London, I mean New Dublin. My bad. Crowds flock to New Dublin from all over the place to watch the parade and listen to the bands and join the festivities that take over our community for a week. Little “leprechauns” come and change the names on the signs to our city from New London to New Dublin. More corned beef and cabbage are consumed during the week than for the rest of the year. New Dublin is definitely a fun place to be around St. Patrick’s Day.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not going to speak out against all the fun, or drinking green beer (as long as it is in moderation!) It’s impossible not to have a wee bit of fun and tomfoolery here in New Dublin. Even us stodgy old Germans (I do have a wee little bit of Irish in my blood, not much, but it’s there) get in on the fun. But maybe, just maybe, we’ve lost sight of who St. Patrick really was, and what the real St. Patrick did that made him the patron Saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick is often the stuff of legends and lore, but there was a real Patrick, who was later named the Patron Saint of Ireland. He was born in 389, in either Scotland or Roman Britain, the son of a deacon. His grandfather is said to have been a priest. Irish raiders invaded his homeland and took him as a prisoner at the age of 16. Patrick served as a slave in Ireland for the next 6 years before he escaped and fled back home. He later confessed that as a youth he had turned away from God. It was during his time as a slave that Patrick was led back to faith in God. He spent the next several years in a monastery strengthening his relationship with God.
Patrick “heard” a voice calling him to return to Ireland, “Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.” Patrick did return as a missionary. He came to Ireland, a beautiful country that was that was ruled by tribalism, warlords and druids. They worshipped many Gods. Patrick came and told them about the true God. He preached throughout the land and was so successful the Ireland became known as the Isle of Saints. He established the first Christian church in Ireland and is said to have planted over 300 more. He was also responsible for sending out many of his converts to Christianity out as missionaries to other countries.
Legend credits St. Patrick with using a shamrock, a three-leafed plant common to Ireland, to teach the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He pointed to each leaf as the Christian teaching of God being three persons in one God. That is why shamrocks are the official symbol of St. Patrick’s Day.
Patrick is remembered for almost single-handedly bringing Christianity to Ireland. St. Patrick’s message is best summed up in a poem he wrote that expresses his faith and trust in God. It is called “The Breastplate.” “Christ be 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 inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
There are a lot of legends surrounding St. Patrick, but the real St. Patrick is well worth remembering. And what he did in bringing Christianity to Ireland is well worth celebrating.
So, go ahead and have your fun with leprechauns and Irish wakes. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not forget what St. Patrick’s Day is really all about. And let’s not forget the man, Patrick, who came preaching the Gospel of Jesus to the hauntingly beautiful isle of Ireland.