Some Thoughts About St. Patrick

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, and I wonder what you associate with St. Patrick. For some it will be rugby and the Schools’ Cup final. For others, it will be about parades and partying. In certain parts of the world, it’s about green beer and shamrocks and leprechauns dancing around the streets.

There are lots of myths around St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, driving all the snakes out of the country and the like. From what we know, he was taken into captivity across the Irish Sea, probably either in Wales or England, in the 5th century. Having arrived as a slave essentially, he spent six difficult years as a herdsman of sheep and pigs and, having left a comfortable existence in his homeland, this must have been a very traumatic and harrowing experience for a young man.

His writings tell us that this experience deepened his spiritual life and he constantly cried out to God for help in his times of loneliness and isolation. After his time in captivity, his spiritual journey continued as he entered the priesthood. He was constantly reading the scriptures and praying, and had a vision of the native Irish people calling him to return to their land to help them.

It must have brought up a lot of challenging feelings for him as he thought back to his time in slavery, but he was willing to go. He received quite a bit of opposition as he travelled about teaching the faith as his biblically informed beliefs put him into conflict with the natives.

I’m always struck by his compassion. He saw the huge needs in Irish society at the time and had a deep sense that people were spiritually lost. This drove him to establish monastic communities and to travel extensively, teaching local communities about the faith.

This year, every church in our Diocese of Down and Dromore will be lighting a beacon at our evening service on St. Patrick’s Day. It celebrates the light of the Gospel and, by lighting the beacon, we pray for the light of the Gospel to take hold afresh of the life of our nation. We pray for renewal in our churches and in the spiritual life of our nation.

There are always very special celebrations in Downpatrick on St. Patrick’s Day. This year, the celebrations are on Saturday 16th March. There is an early celebration of holy Communion at Saul Church where, it is believed, St. Patrick established the first Christian community in the 5th century. This service, at 9.15am, is followed by a pilgrimage, or prayer walk, to Down Cathedral. It’s always a very special occasion as you meet people from all over the world, from all over the Diocese, as we walk together, stopping at various points to pray for the local community and for our land.

There will be a festival service at 11.45 am in the Cathedral, led by the Bishop, and the guest preacher is Bishop Jill Duff, who is Bishop of Lancaster. She has written a book called, ‘Lighting the Beacons’, about encouraging God’s people to radiate His love and compassion in our local communities and make the world sit up and take notice of all that He has done for us.

After a central beacon is lit and after the service, a wreath will be laid on St. Patrick’s grave and then there will be a picnic in the pew before people head away.

Wherever you are on St. Patrick’s weekend, let’s take inspiration from this man who loved the Irish people enough to return and to bring the light of the Gospel, and share the hope that new life in Christ can bring to our lives, and to a broken world.

Look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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