Bring your ladders or climb a statue, it’s easier to catch a glimpse of the colourful and extravagant costumes of the Paddy’s Day parade. Tourists and locals cover the parade routes like a sea of ants. Bobbing shamrocks float through the crowd and adult sized leprechauns are found throughout the crowd. It was the first time that I had been to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin as a spectator. The artistic stories told by different counties were less like the parade floats I grew up with but far more descriptive and skillful creations. Enjoy the moment!
Green, white and gold hung from every perceivable place in the cozy kitchen. Celebratory family members, dressed in their most festive outfits, filled the chairs around the table, the counter tops, and the spaces between. “Do you want a cuppa tea? You can put the kettle on and make it yourself,” Donna greeted me cheerfully. Introductions were made to our three visitors from Germany who were already making themselves at home. The smallest family members, grandchildren, nieces and nephews scooted in and out of the room under feet. The surfaces were covered in crisps, sweets, drinks, and all good things to enjoy together. I reached between two of the teens to wet my “kiss me I’m Irish” rub on tattoo in the sink. All 20 or so of us were in good spirits, enjoying the banter as we reminisced about the St. Patrick’s Day parade earlier in the day and the events of the past weekend.
We had a reason to celebrate. We were all there because Aaron and Randy were visiting. For the first time, Randy’s family was joining her in Aaron’s home. It was a day for loved ones, both Irish and German. Aaron gathered everyone together to give a speech, acknowledging the privilege of having their families together on Paddy’s Day. Calling Randy up, he took her hand and, dropping to one knee, proposed to her in German. This inner-city Dublin boy that I knew had become an international man with an immense capability to love right before my eyes. We all had tears as we saw the hope of their future. To be there, welcomed as family was absolutely beautiful.
That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven. (3)
Again and again I briefly put before you the words of my confession. I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises. (61)
I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die. (62)
As a child I grew up knowing to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or else I would get a pinch. Later the celebrations around me seemed to get more extravagant as McDonald’s began to have mint aero flurries or green milkshakes. The day was associated with leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, and shamrocks. Who really knew what it was about? Later it became associated with everything Irish – Guinness, Riverdance, really bad Irish accents. Somewhere in there was a flicker of curiosity about this Saint that the day was named after. It wasn’t until moving to Dublin though that I began to reflect on the enormity of his contribution to this nation. How could I not wonder? Apart from Christmas and Easter, I am not aware of a national, statutory holiday in Ireland that is in remembrance of one person. Over 1500 years later and we still take a day off in his memory. Half of the world seems to flood into Dublin on Paddy’s Day. They will hardly see anything of Patrick though. You probably won’t even see him in the parade unless someone sneaks him in.
March 17 is the day he is celebrated because it is the anniversary of his death. Remembrance dates are important here. Close family members remember and do symbolic acts on the days of their loved ones deaths. It is an important part of the grieving process. Some will even go to mediums to speak with their passed relatives on that day.
Patrick? He gets a parade, celebrations, and the worst day for vomit on the streets. He isn’t someone to be worshiped but he is someone to be remembered. This country was never the same because he came here. It was completely and radically transformed!
Patrick’s living and dying wish was for God to be seen for who he is by all the people of this world, starting with this island. His last words were for our benefit. Through them we know his story and his motivation. Powerful words.
Thinking of these things challenges me to pursue God like Patrick did – to allow God to live through me like Patrick did. Today I honour his memory by remembering God’s goodness to me. No doubt, doing this will likely affect everyone I meet if I do it with the same sense of awe that Patrick did.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
To read his prayer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate), continue.
Patrick held out to these warrior children (the Irish), in his own person a living alternative. It is possible to be brave – to expect “every day … to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way” – and yet be a man of peace at peace, a man without sword or desire to harm, a man in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away. He was “not afraid of any of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God Almighty.” Patrick’s peace was no sham: it issued from his person like a fragrance. And in a damp land where people lived and sleep in close proximity, everyone would have known sooner or later if Patrick’s sleep was brought on by the goddess of intoxication or broken by the goddess of fear. Patrick slept soundly and soberly. ~ How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
Patrick was far from someone who merely integrated into a culture so as to subdue or convince them of a different god. His faith was real and it was living in him to the point that a spiritual people couldn’t help but sense it all over him. Like Paul before him, he became all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some. He was a living example of what a life lived out in complete humility before the God of the universe would look like while in an adopted home. He struggled with guilt over the sin of his past. His writing suggests that we might classify him these days as having poor self-esteem. He sure wasn’t the charismatic and confident leader we might wish to see. He was, however, focused on the profound and unimaginable greatness of God that transcends cultures and found true peace and true courage. He oozed the presence of the Prince of Peace and Lord of lords.
This is the Patrick who stood alone in the confidence of his Saviour, defying the Druid gods and goddesses in a strikingly similar story to that of Elijah on Mount Carmel. As the Druids looked across from the Hill of Tara to the Hill of Slane where Patrick was they trembled at the thought that Patrick’s fire might burn forever on this island. Patrick defied their gods and goddesses that night. He defied them with his life as he was welcomed into communities after that. He defied fear by going to sleep sober. When others would wake in horror during the night finding that intoxication had only saved them a short while, he slept on. His peace and courage were not lip service to a constructed spiritual being. They were completely transcendent.
This is the Patrick of St. Patrick’s Day. A man who fiercely loved God and fiercely loved the Irish. He committed his life to being a living alternative.
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers … I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. (1)
After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time. (16)
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. (2)
~ St. Patrick’s Confession, written by Patrick himself
Kings and Druids ruled the forests, mountains and plains of this island. Their very spiritual daily life was rooted in the goddess of fear and the goddess of intoxication. Sold into Ireland as a foreign slave, Patrick was malnourished and under clothed while forcefully introduced to this new culture. Yet, it was in this environment that a young man, who didn’t even know the true God, began to call out to him. God met him as he prayed. He filled Patrick with a growing love when the gods around cultivated fear. So it was that Patrick came to know Ireland and God in the 5th century, before escaping for home.