Posted by: Fr Chris | March 15, 2021

Enlightener of Ireland

Sorry to have been absent – I have had some serious flare-ups of neural pain and inflammation, which have kept me away from writing. Here is what I submitted to our parish for Saint Patrick’s Day

St Patrick of Ireland Hand-Painted Icon - BlessedMart

March 17 is the feast of Saint Patrick. In the Byzantine Typikon, he is honored as the “Enlightener of Ireland.”

Patrick lived from about 387 to about 417, and he is the most famous of the Romano-British missionary saints. After being enslaved at 16 years of age by Irish raiders, he escaped after six years and was reunited with his family. But he went on to study for the priesthood in order to fulfill the dreams God sent him of saving Irish souls. Consecrated as Bishop of Ireland by Pope Celestine I around 431 AD, he returned to serve the small Christian population and to preach to the pagans. He spent 30 years preaching, ordaining priests, establishing dioceses with bishops, and teaching missionaries. Icons depict him in green vestments, the traditional color of Ireland, holding the three-leaf shamrock. Irish legend has it that Patrick and his missionaries used the shamrock to teach the people about the Three Persons of the Trinity in the One God. 

While the shamrock story may be a legend, it is a fact that he established the beautiful Celtic crosses. The story of Patrick driving out the snakes is a metaphor for driving out pagan worship and rooting the Church deep into Irish culture.

Saint Patrick’s Mountain, Croagh Patrick. A striking cone-shaped mountain in County Mayo, this was a holy place under the druids of the old Celtic pagan religions. Patrick came here often to pray, and once he was inspired by his guardian angel to imitate Moses and spend forty days and nights, in intense intercessory prayer for the Irish people. He had only a slight recess in the rocks as his shelter at night, and otherwise spent the time praying exposed to wind and rain, interceding for the Irish of his day and the generations to come.

Pilgrims are advised not to climb Croagh Patrick barefoot
Pilgrims on Croagh Patrick – the tradition is to walk barefoot for penance

As the Catholic Encyclopedia relates:

The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish race, which he evangelized. The demons that made Ireland their battlefield mustered all their strength to tempt the saint and disturb him in his solitude, and turn him away, if possible, from his pious purpose. They gathered around the hill in the form of vast flocks of hideous birds of prey. So dense were their ranks that they seemed to cover the whole mountain, like a cloud, and they so filled the air that Patrick could see neither sky nor earth nor ocean. St. Patrick besought God to scatter the demons, but for a time it would seem as if his prayers and tears were in vain. At length he rang his sweet-sounding bell, symbol of his preaching of the Divine truths. Its sound was heard all over the valleys and hills of Erin, everywhere bringing peace and joy. The flocks of demons began to scatter. He flung his bell among them; they took to precipitate flight, and cast themselves into the ocean. So complete was the saint’s victory over them that, as the ancient narrative adds, “for seven years no evil thing was to be found in Ireland.”

Pilgrims still climb the mount, especially on the last Sunday of July, when thousands of pilgrims will gather to climb to the summit and see where Patrick prayed. It was traditional to go barefoot over the sharp and rough scree rocks, and many men would go shirtless exposed to the harsh winds; these practices were to atone both for their own sins and the sins of others. Now the Irish police try to convince people to be more modern in their penances, and thus safer, but some still follow the old ways.

In 2010, a huge crowd of 20,000 climbed Croagh Patrick. Given the shock over the sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, people felt that there was much to pray for.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: