“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deuteronomy 15:14-15)
St. Patrick is, of course, the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t originally Irish. He was Romano-British, probably born in what is now southern Scotland, or possibly Wales. His first introduction to the Emerald Isle was as a slave, after he had been kidnapped as a youth by Irish raiders. In his difficulties he came increasingly to rely on God, and he believed that God was calling him out of captivity. He escaped and found his way home. His faith life deepened, and after a time he concluded that he was being called back to save those who had enslaved him. After ordination as a priest he returned to Ireland, where he successfully evangelized his former captors, and eventually became known as the Apostle of Ireland.
There is something profoundly Christian about St. Patrick’s story. Consider just how different is the story about Julius Caesar, as told by the Roman historian Suetonius. When he was a young man, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates, who held him for ransom. The buccaneers were charmed by the Roman aristocrat’s magnetic personality, and soon he was a participant, even a leader, in all their feasting and horseplay. Suetonius relates that Caesar often smiled as he told the pirates that, when he was ransomed, he would come back and crucify all of them, which apparently amused them quite a bit. As it turned out, Caesar wasn’t joking: after he was ransomed, he did return, and brutally avenged himself on his abductors.
St. Patrick came back as well, but in a spirit of love, not of vengeance, heeding the words of Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He shows us in a very concrete way how the Wisdom of God is indeed different from the “wisdom” of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:19).
St. Patrick came back as well, but in a spirit of love, not of vengeance, heeding the words of Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
We don’t need to be kidnapped or enslaved in a literal sense to see how the lesson of St. Patrick applies to ourselves. Jesus Christ came to save us from slavery to sin. Many people who are now serious Catholics previously spent a significant part of their life separated from Christ, living in that state of servitude. Like St. Patrick, we are called to respond to that experience in love, and to try to bring others, even those who have wronged us, into the freedom of Christ. That, rather than funny hats and green beer, is the true Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.
(Pictured above: “St. Patrick Baptizes the King of Munster”. Stained glass window from St. Patrick’s Church, Columbus, OH; photo Wikipedia Commons)