By Mary O’KEEFE
St. Patrick’s Day is often thought of as a day for green beer and the “wearin of the green.” It is a time where everyone is supposedly Irish. Well then it is only right that all those newly dubbed Celts know the true reason for celebrating Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Patrick was born into a wealthy English family about 460 A.D. At 16, he was taken prisoner by some Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They took him to Ireland where he spent six years as a slave. He worked as a shepherd, giving him a lot of time alone. It was believed during this time he became a devout Christian.
After six years Patrick escaped, walking hundreds of miles to the coast, then sailing to Britain. This part of the story is amazing enough but then it turns miraculous.
Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary. This man who was kidnapped and held as a slave went back to his captives to educate and show them there was another choice, a way to live their life through the teachings of Christ.
Instead of teaching that everything the Irish believed was wrong and Christianity was the right path, Patrick incorporated the symbols the Celts used into his teachings. For example, all the shamrocks that decorate everything during this time of year were actually a symbol used to explain the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It was a way of tying the Irish’s strong beliefs in gods of nature to the Christian God.
Another symbol, which has lasted the test of time, is the Celtic cross. Patrick used the circle symbol for the sun that was used in the pagan religion of the time. He incorporated the circle with the Christian cross.
Through the years, Patrick’s story has been added to and exaggerated. Chasing the snakes from Ireland, for example. But the foundation of the truth is there. Patrick was a man who returned to those who enslaved him not with anger or revenge but with compassion. He didn’t change people by judging but with education and respect.
So maybe this year before the green beer and the corned beef, folks can take time out to remember Patrick, perhaps by helping someone in need, not judging those who are different and understand that respect works better than force.