St Patrick, it seems, is remembered and celebrated more than any of the other Celtic saints. Why is this?

There are a number of reasons for this, including the weight given to St Patrick"s Day by the diaspora community from the island of Ireland across the globe, numbering some 70 million. Driven by the influence of America and the unique relationship that the island enjoys with the US, St Patrick"s Day parades and celebrations now take place in many cities and countries.

Coastine in Northern Ireland. It was at a site just south of Belfast that St Patrick's mission was born. PICTURE: David Hewitt (www.sxc.hu)

 

"(In his) writings we find a person hopelessly devoted to God, a person who has been a recipient of the grace of God and who wants to freely share that grace with others. Reading his writings one is inspired and awestruck by his devotional life. His focus and commitment to prayer are evident at every turn; he said he often prayed as many as 100 prayers a day, and as many at night...(yet) Patrick did not fall into the trap of "navel gazing"; prayer wasn"t a means to escape from social problems and needs."

St Patrick is unique among the Celtic saints because he left writings from his own hand. Much in the same way that there is a focus on the apostles who left their writings, so there is a greater focus and draw to Patrick. For example, we can discover Patrick, "the real person" as we delve into his Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.

In these writings we find a person hopelessly devoted to God, a person who has been a recipient of the grace of God and who wants to freely share that grace with others. Reading his writings one is inspired and awestruck by his devotional life. His focus and commitment to prayer are evident at every turn; he said he often prayed as many as 100 prayers a day, and as many at night. Patrick seemed to be able to hear God audibly at times and was guided by God through dreams and visions. His prayer life was honed, and shaped by his workplace; he developed his prayer life while tending sheep. In his writings we find him praying for the welfare of others, for their practical needs. Patrick did not fall into the trap of "navel gazing"; prayer wasn"t a means to escape from social problems and needs. 

In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus there is evidence of his social conscience; he attacks the slave trade of his day and calls to account those in authority over the ill treatment and exploitation of their fellow human beings. Patrick is ready to risk his own life in the pursuit of living and teaching the whole gospel.

Although our understanding of God has developed over the last 1500 years, Patrick"s life and his writings have much contemporary relevance. A victim of terror at an early age, he has much to say to the post 9/11 world. Majoring on the theme of forgiveness, Patrick overcomes his fear of those who wronged him, and empowered by God, goes back to the people who robbed him of so much, offering to them a message of grace and unconditional love. 

Patrick"s commitment and perseverance in his call despite circumstances also provides timeless inspiration. His experience of betrayal by a close friend and the misunderstanding and jealousy he encountered by those who should have been supporting him, will unfortunately touch a chord with many in today"s church.

Patrick"s Gospel was one that transcended the political divides of his day. It was a Gospel that promoted the unity and oneness that Jesus called for in John 17. On a still-divided island, this saint cannot be exclusively "owned" by today"s so-called "Protestants" or "Catholics"; he predates our modern divisions. Although it is highly unlikely that Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, the Celtic tradition in which he walked managed to engage with the culture of its day, rather than despising and criticising it. It was a theology that emphasised redemption as opposed to judgement, and looked for the image of God in people who could be restored through relationship with the Creator. In a world that"s crying out to be engaged with spiritually, Patrick"s methodology has much teach us.

The island of Ireland was so impacted by the message of Patrick that many missionaries travelled all over the then known world. Much ink has been used to recount the exploits of these adventurers in mission. Many think that God will act in such a way again, reviving spiritual life in Ireland and then go on to impact Europe and the world. That would be great, but God is already using the island of Ireland and her citizens and family to bring much needed change already. Some of the strongest and most determined voices championing the cause of the world"s poor are sons of the island of Ireland.

Join in the "Pray on St Patrick"s Day" initiative, praying that the island of Ireland and all it"s extended family will become everything that God has intended.

Richard Treacy is the founder of Irish-based www.prayonstpatricksday.com, a call to prayer based around the life and the continuing inspiration of St Patrick. This article first appeared in UK magazine Faith for Life - www.faith4life.com.