Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Maybe I’m just still a young adult having lived through my high school and college years, and alcohol seems to be a popular drink of choice, stereotypically so for people of my age.  Well, thank goodness I’m Catholic and drinking alcohol isn’t a sin, but the abuse of alcohol is.  But hey! We apparently even have a beer blessing! And some Trappist monasteries also brew beer! And we have patron saints of brewers like St. Augustine, St. Nicholas, St. Luke, et al!

Anyway, I find it interesting that here in the United States, most holidays are justifiable reasons to go drinking.  I mean, it’s 5PM somewhere everyday, right?  Haha.  But, I think the one holiday that sticks out to me the most in terms of drinking to celebrate the holiday is St. Patrick’s Day.  I remember when I went on a high school band trip to New York City during Spring Break, and we passed through a pier bar.  I couldn’t help but notice how hardcore people take their dressing of green and drinking seriously.  Even in college at Texas A&M, Northgate was a sea of green rather than its usual sea of maroon.  And of course most people know Northgate is Texas A&M’s “bar scene.”  
Being Filipino, I never really cared too much for St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah it’s fun.  It’s cool to wear green.  I’m not too much of a drinker so you won’t find me at the bar/club on that day.  Watching the parades is cool.  Maybe one time I dressed up my old dog, Poco, in a festive hat…
Even his eyes are festive!
Alternative Caption: my Chihuahua is Filipino-Mexican-Irish!
I get too caught up in just considering St. Patrick’s Day as a day to celebrate Irish heritage and to go crazy with green beer and green clothes and green parades.  But, in my maturing of my knowledge and appreciation of the Catholic faith, I’m starting to pay more attention to the fact that this green Day (not the band) is named after a Catholic saint.
So that begs the necessary questions:  who is St. Patrick and why do we celebrate him on March 17th?  What am I raising my mug to when I down a cold one in his honor?  How and why am I celebrating the Irish on this day?
Since I didn’t possess much prior knowledge or watch a Wishbone episode for St. Patrick like I did with St. Juan Diego, I actually had to go do some light research (resources below). What sparked my wanting to write this blog post was reading someone else’s blog post on a restaurant dialogue between the author and the waiter on the purpose of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  Before we get started…

Who is St. Patrick?

Contrary to assumed belief, St. Patrick was, in fact, not Irish.  He was actually born in Scotland to British and Roman parents.  He lived in the late 400’s.  At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish marauders and held captive as a slave for six years.  During his captivity, he became acclimated to Irish culture where druidism and Celtic culture prevailed.  In addition, he prayed a lot.  In one of his works, Confessio, he recounts (qtd. from New Advent):

and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me. (Confessio 16)

Also, during his captivity, he supposedly heard a voice from God for him to escape.  He eventually escapes and convicted to serve the Lord, he pursues a missionary life.  He befriends St. Germain (or Germanus) who was the Bishop of Auxerre in France at the time.  St. Germain guides him and lets St. Patrick pursue religious studies before ordaining him as a priest.  After several years of religious formation, St. Germain ordains him and sends him off to do missionary work in Britain to counter heresies and Paganism.
But St. Patrick felt called to return to Ireland after having visions and dreams to continue his missionary work there.  He asked and received.  Pope Celestine I ordained St. Patrick as a bishop and and entrusted him to minister to the Christians living in Ireland and to bring the Irish people into the family of God.  Contrary to some popular belief, St. Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland.  That is credited to St. Palladius.
A simplified version

I’m probably not doing St. Patrick any justice in summarizing his work, but he preached the Gospel all over Ireland and converted many including kingdoms and families.  He spent 40 years in Ireland and successfully assimilated Christianity in the Irish culture.  In helping the Irish people convert, he also encouraged many to pursue the religious life. “He ordained everywhere clergymen, induced women to live in holy widowhood and continence, consecrated virgins to Christ, and instituted monks.” [4].  He also didn’t abolish old customs and pagan ways unless they contradicted with Catholic teaching.  Instead, he totally did the Catholic thing by “Catholicizing” a pagan thing and altering it to be more Catholic.  An example would be the Celtic cross, which combines a symbol of the sun (the circular ring) of their pagan culture as well as the cross of Christianity.

Because of his work and because of the appreciation of the Irish people, St. Patrick would often receive gifts from the faithful for his ministry as a priest.  However, he would turn those gifts down and suggest that the gifts be given away.
St. Patrick still faced many difficulties in his ministry.  He was captured many times and even condemned to death at one point. Yes, the druids would even try casting “spells” on him, but St. Patrick’s faith outshone the spells meant to bring about his demise.  Despite all the difficulties, he managed to continue bringing Christianity more fully to the Irish.  It took several hundred years after his death, but Ireland became a Christian country with a unique blend of Christian and Celtic heritage.  His legacy lives on in the Irish culture we all know today.

Through the ages, some legends have been passed down about St. Patrick.  Apparently, a myth circulated that he banished snakes from the island of Ireland when in fact there are no (wild) snakes in Ireland.  This could metaphorically be taken as how he banished Ireland’s old evil ways since serpents are typically used to symbolize evil in Scripture.  Whenever I think of Ireland, one of the first things that comes to mind is the three-leaf clover.  Another legend regarding St. Patrick is how he used the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Lastly, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  Obviously.  But also of Nigeria?! Random! And he’s also the patron saint of engineers.  Sweet! I’m one of those!

Why and how do we celebrate him?
St. Patrick died on March 17th, though what year seems to be different depending on the source.  Either way, March 17 was declared as his feast day.  As Catholics, we celebrate and commemorate a saint on their feast day as a way to remember them and their example of living out Christian faith to a heroic and virtuous degree.  Remember, we don’t worship them!  (worshiping the saints is heresy!)

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. I find it amusing that we often assume that the Irish are hardcore drinkers, which might be too presumptuous.  My college friends of Irish heritage love “embracing their Irish identity,” especially on St. Patrick’s Day by going out and drinking.  But I found it even more interesting that Irish in Ireland haven’t historically gotten wastey face on this day.  Up until the 1970’s, Irish pubs would actually close in observance of the holiday.  On St. Patrick’s Day, they celebrate by going to Mass or church service.  Festivals and fireworks are also part of the day’s celebrations.  Oh, leprechauns have nothing to do with St. Patrick.  I thought I read somewhere that the leprechaun, as we understand and see it today, was an American idea? Whatev.

I actually didn’t know this until I happened upon it through my light research–the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York in 1762!  Not Ireland!  At that time, Irish immigrants working as indentured servants decided to commemorate St. Patrick’s feast day in this way.  Since then, it seems like every major city in the U.S. holds some sort of parade, and every bar gets filled with revelers greening out.

What can we learn from St. Patrick?
In reading about St. Patrick in preparation for this blog post, I read about how much he dedicated his life to prayer.  I mean, undertaking the task of being a missionary for a whole island country is not easy.  I would imagine that this work required a lot of physical and mental strength, and because of those demands, I would guess that St. Patrick needed to possess lots of interior strength to endure all of his trials.  And the best way to develop interior strength is through prayer.

Lastly, I mentioned how he heard God’s voice to escape from Ireland but only to return again after being called back through visions.  The important takeaway I get from this is that he answered the call.  I think the only way he could have known and discerned the will of God for his life is by having a dedicated spiritual life not with the expectation to receive a clear answer from God, but to be open and silent enough to hear whatever God calls him to do.  I often ask myself what is God calling me to be and to do, and my spiritual director is right–the more I develop an interior spiritual life, the better I’ll be at listening to where God calls me.

And apparently, as we see in St. Patrick, God called him to be in Ireland.  St. Patrick answered.  And if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post and our merry drinking on March 17 would lack any meaning.

This beer got really angry

So, I raise my mug to St. Patrick!

…for his ministry as a priest and authentic witness to the Christian faith!  May we spend March 17 remembering and celebrating him and his legacy through Irish culture!

With all this in mind, if I were to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day through adult beverages, I would be hesitant in getting drunk for the sole purpose of getting drunk.  I have to remember why St. Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration in the first place.  Would I really be honoring Irish heritage, even as a non-Irish, by getting wasted?

In closing, I think I should end with the “Lorica of St. Patrick.”  A lorica, also known as “armor” or “breastplate,” is a prayer recited before going into battle.  This lorica is attributed to but not necessarily written by St. Patrick.  Either way, it’s a beautiful prayer.

The Lorica of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of the angels,
In service of archangles,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts
man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness
Through a confession of the Oneness
OF the Creator of creation.

– JD


[1] “St. Patrick.” New Advent. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm
[2] “St. Patrick.” Catholic Online. <http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89>
[3] “Who Was St. Patrick.” History Channel. <http://www.history.com/topics/who-was-saint-patrick>
[4] “St. Patrick.” Lives of the Saints. Alban Butler. Kindle location 2000.
[5] “First St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” History Channel. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-st-patricks-day-parade>
[6] “St. Patrick.” American Catholic. <http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1325>