CHAPLAIN’s CORNER by Gary Phillips, Chaplain
Saint Patrick’s Day has come to be associated with everything Irish: anything green and gold, shamrocks and luck. Most importantly, to those who celebrate its intended meaning, St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide. Why is it celebrated on March 17th? One theory is that that is the day that St. Patrick died.
Saint Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. St Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. According to different versions about St Patrick and his life story it is said that he was born in Britain, around 385AD. As a boy of 14 he was captured and taken to Ireland where he spent six years in slavery herding sheep. He returned to Ireland in his 30s as a missionary among the Celtic pagans. Saint Patrick described himself as a “most humble-minded man, pouring forth continuous prayers of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped idols and unclean things had become the people of God.”
About St Patrick and the snakes…. He is most known for driving the snakes from Ireland. It is true there are no snakes in Ireland, but there probably never have been – the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. As in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped. Driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice. While he may not have, in fact, been the first to bring Christianity to Ireland; it is Patrick who is said to have encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites. The story holds that he converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the “Holy Wells” that still bear this name.
Many folk ask the question ‘Why is the Shamrock the National Flower of Ireland?’ The reason is that St. Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans. In the custom known as “drowning the shamrock”, the shamrock that has been worn on a lapel or hat is put in the last drink of the evening.
I wonder what St Patrick would think about all that?!
So, whilst you bring a glass to your lips on March 17th; sure you should toast and ask Saint Patrick’s blessing upon all our brave men and women, serving around the world… our American missionaries for freedom and peace.