Friday, March 17, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am
QUESTION: I assume that there really was a St. Patrick, but there are so many myths and legends floating around that I wonder what is true. Besides that, what can a person who lived a thousand years ago really say to us today?
ANSWER: There certainly is a great deal of myth and legend attached to St. Patrick. But there are also some facts that can lead us to apply some lessons for our lives.
Perhaps the most significant source for information is a volume titled “Confession,” which most scholars agree was written by St. Patrick himself. In this volume, we find an old man looking back on his life and sharing his memories and struggles.
It is there that we learn that Patrick’s father was a civil official of the Roman Empire assigned to the British isles. Patrick was raised in a Christian home with running water, servants and teachers. At age 16, he was kidnapped from the British coast by Irish pirates and, once back in Ireland, sold as a slave.
After six years of servitude, he escaped. Once home, he had a dream that he was being called back to Ireland. Patrick did not make the decision easily, and after much personal struggle was ordained a priest and a bishop and returned to Ireland as a missionary in 432 A.D.
St. Patrick speaks honestly in his “Confession” of the difficulties and struggles of this mission. The Ireland of that day resembled little of what he knew at home. Nonetheless, through great sacrifice, he succeeded in doing what he believed to be God’s will for him.
Even this very brief summary of Patrick’s life holds out a great example for many in our day. As teenagers struggle with self-esteem, identity and future, they surely have an example of someone who had a dream and gave up so much to bring it to reality.
Those who feel burdened and enslaved can see in St. Patrick a person who suffered at the hands of others but did not allow those trials to make him a bitter and angry man. Instead he was someone who saw the potential for good in the very place where he was enslaved.
For those who struggle with vocational discernment, in St. Patrick they can find one who wrestled with precisely what God wanted of him. His determination and vision moved him to deep prayer and commitment to the voice of God he found there.
For those priests and parish ministers who daily expend their energy in the service of the Gospel, St. Patrick is there beside them as an understanding pastor of souls. For those whose lives are filled with questions and doubts, St. Patrick is there with them searching for the light of God’s truth.
St. Patrick, the real person, is so much more than green rivers or green beer. His feast can be a holy day where we remind ourselves of a courageous man who is part of our faith family. Although a saint of long ago, his life was in many way a lot like our own.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.