Sunday, 17 March 2013

Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, March 17



Below is an account of our national apostle, Saint Patrick, commemorated on March 17. It was written as part of a series of short lives of the saints which was published in Boston in 1860. The author, Charles B. Fairbanks, was a convert to Catholicism and this work was published posthumously. His account speaks very confidently of the birthplace, burial place and chronology of Saint Patrick, all of which are still very much debated by modern scholars. For further reading on Saint Patrick please visit my other site Trias Thaumaturga which is dedicated to the three patrons of Ireland.

THERE are few Christian nations which do not venerate the memory of some heroic martyr or confessor, to whose self-denying exertions they are indebted for the priceless blessings of the Catholic faith. Admiration for their virtues and noble works while living, and gratitude for the blessings obtained by their patronage and intercession after they had passed from the scene of their earthly trials, have united to place such benefactors to the human race as far above all mere earthly heroes as the interests of religion are above those of the world. Germany, however deeply she may be ingulfed in unbelief, can never forget St. Boniface; England, deny the faith as she may in her statute books, remembers her St. Augustine and the great St. Gregory; France, through all her revolutions and disorders, is not unmindful of the glory that surrounds the name of her Remy and Martin; and Ireland cherishes with devotion and gratitude the blessed memory of her St. Patrick. Not all the cruelty of her oppressors, not all the sufferings of years of famine, not all the bloody efforts of her persecutors have been able to displace St. Patrick from the Irish heart; rather have they tended to fix him more securely in the affections of a people who are indebted to him, under God, for that faith which has enabled them to bear with their sorrows and misfortunes by keeping their hearts lifted up to Him who said, "In the world ye shall have distress; but have confidence; I have overcome the world."

Of the early portion of St. Patrick's life little is positively known. He tells us in his confession that he was born in Scotland, near Glasgow, on the River Clyde. The most reliable authorities agree in placing the date of his birth in the year 372. St. Patrick calls himself both a Briton and a Roman. His father, Calphurnius, appears to have been a man of good lineage, and some ancient writers say that his mother was a niece of St. Martin of Tours. Though he had been baptized in his infancy, he mourns over his youthful infidelity, and says that he neglected the knowledge of God which was offered to him, and that he was a stranger to the joys of fervent devotion. When he was fifteen years old he was seized, with a number of his father's vassals, and carried into slavery in the north of Ireland. He was placed by his enslavers in charge of a herd of cattle, and almost without food, or clothing, or shelter, he spent his days and nights upon the hills and in the forests. Amid these sufferings and privations he turned to the God, whom in his prosperity he seemed to have forgotten, and found the relief he craved for. He gathered new strength from prayer and meditation, and the hardships of his lot became sources of heavenly benediction. After six months of captivity he escaped to the sea coast, where some pagan sailors took pity on him, and carried him to the northern part of Scotland. They wandered through uninhabited regions for several days, and suffered much from want of food. At last he reached his home, where he lived several years with his parents. He was, during this period, carried into captivity again, but regained his liberty after a lapse of two months.

The fervor which had been kindled by his distress during his life of slavery did not abate when he had found rest in the abode of his family. His devotion seemed to increase as he grew older. During his residence with his parents he received from God, in repeated visions, his vocation to the great work of the conversion of Ireland to the Christian faith.

He spent many years in preparing himself for holy orders, and had to contend with great opposition from his family. His friends threw every obstacle in the way of his ordination, and had he not been miraculously sustained he could never have persevered in his resolution. He triumphed at last, however, over all obstacles, forsook his family and his possessions, and gave himself up to the work to which God called him with a free heart.

He immediately went into Ireland and commenced his labors among the people, who were in a state of barbarism, and were wholly given to the worship of idols. He despised all dangers, and travelled over the whole island, converting multitudes, establishing convents and monasteries, and leading many to embrace the religious life. His charity to the poor knew no bounds. He never ceased almsgiving while he had any thing to bestow, and towards himself observed the most rigorous rule of religious poverty.

His success in the evangelization of the land raised up many enemies, who harassed him with frequent and severe persecutions. He suffered much from imprisonment and from the violence of his persecutors, many of whom were men of power and influence. He lived in daily expectation of martyrdom; but was spared many years to continue his apostolic work. He ordained many priests, and held several councils for the regulation of the discipline of the church he had founded. Other bishops were afterwards appointed to assist him, and he became their metropolitan, fixing his see at Armagh. Ireland soon showed the fruits of St. Patrick's zeal. Not only was idolatry banished from the country, but churches and institutions of learning rose on every side, and religion flourished among all classes of the people. Religious vocations multiplied, and the land became indeed an island of saints. The apostolate of St. Patrick extended over a period of forty years. During this time he repeatedly visited all parts of the island, and illustrated his earnest and eloquent preaching by many miracles and the beauty of his daily life. It was vouchsafed to him to see the work completed to which he had given himself so generously in his youth. He died in the year 464, and was buried at Down, in Ulster. His festival was fixed for the 17th of March.

Few are called to such a work as that of St. Patrick; but there is no one, from the mightiest to the most humble, from the most learned to the most ignorant, who may not imitate his virtues. We may not evangelize a heathen country, but our lives may be made to reflect the humility, and patience, and all-embracing love of God and man, which made the apostle of Ireland a saint in the Church of God, and embalmed his memory in the hearts of a redeemed and grateful people.


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