Fifteen hundred and ten years have come and gone since the death of St. Patrick in 493, and argument is still going on as to where he was born. Were he in our midst today and questioned about the matter, he would probably reply as he replied to the same question soon after his second coming. To someone who was inquisitive as to his birthplace and nationality he said very gently that time would be better spent in learning the teaching of God than in putting questions concerning the race and country of himself and his followers. Some spend a great deal of time, too, contending that there were two Apostles named Patrick, and in all sorts of wise and unwise conjectures. Most of us are content to thank God for His great goodness and mercy and love in sending to our land an Apostle who planted the True Faith so firmly in the hearts of our fathers that centuries of persecution failed to uproot it, that it is still alive and glowing after the lapse of fifteen hundred years and that it has spread out from Ireland across the entire universe.
Early in the fifth century a pagan king of Ireland, Niall by name, returning from one of the customary raids of the period, brought among his captives a youth of gentle birth named Succoth, believed to the son of roman parents living in Britain or in France. The boy was sixteen years of age, hardy and strong, and someone changed his name to Patricius after his purchase as a slave by an Ulster chief named Milcho.
Sliabh Mis (Slemish)
He was set to herd sheep and survive on bleak Sliabh Mis (Slemish), a mountain in Antrim, and it was during this hard and lonely exile that his maturing of thoughts turned to God and His Holy Mother for courage and consolation. It was on the wind swept slopes of Slemish that he became a man of prayer. He learned the Irish language , grew to love the young people whom he came in contact, winning from them in return a love that perhaps helped him to escape from captivity at the end of six sad years.
The great St. Martin of Tours was his mother's brother, it is said, and to him the young man of twenty two made his way and pleaded for his instruction that would fit him to serve God and rescue souls from the slavery of paganism.
Four years later Saint Martin entrusted the student Patricius to Saint Germanus of Auxerre under whom he was sent to Pope Celestine. When his consecration as bishop took place the Pope yielded to his earnest appeal to be allowed to go back to Ireland, the place of his captivity, to bring the people he had grown to love to a knowledge of the True Faith. To Ireland he came, then, in 432, and his coming led to a new life, not for the Gael alone, but for the people of many nations to whom unselfish missionaries with hearts aflame have been going out in multitudes for over fifteen hundred years bearing the teaching and the light and the love of Christ Crucified to all the darkened places of the world, under the inspiration of the memory of St. Patrick who brought the saving grace of God to their own land long ago.
When Patrick the consecrated missionary, accompanied by a few disciples landed at a small Meath harbour in 432, he was summoned to the presence of the High King of Ireland, Laoire, who was then at Teamhair (Tara) for the celebration of the pagan summer festival. Fearing obstruction and perhaps attack on the way from the hill of Slane, near which he had landed, to Tara, tradition tells us that the saint composed and recited aloud the beautiful prayer Lureach Phadraig, The Breastplate of Saint Patrick.
Saint Patrick's Breastplate
Christ be with me
Christ be before me
Christ be behind me
Christ be within me
Christ be beneath me
Christ be above me
Christ be at my right
Christ be at my left
Christ be in the fort
Christ be in the chariot seat
Christ be in the ship
Christ be in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ be in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ be in every eye that sees me
Christ be in every ear that hears me
The King of Ireland was kind and generous, even though he did not himself embrace the True Faith. Having questioned Patrick and listened with attention and respect to his explanation of the mission on which he had been sent by the Vicar of Christ, Laoire gave him permission to travel and teach and preach throughout the land.
The conversion of Ireland is the only bloodless spiritual revolution in history, as well as the most successful. Patrick traversed most of the country, blessing and extending the missionary work that had been done by others before his arrival, adapting pagan festivals and customs and linking them with feasts of the Saints in a way that won for the wise, far seeing, understanding Apostle the lasting love of the people.
That love and wisdom and zeal and understanding have been borne by the missionary successors of Saint Patrick all over the world and account for the mysterious appeal the Feast of Ireland's Patron Saint has for many races in many lands down to this very day in which we live. His humility, his holiness, his courage , his gentle heroism, his wisdom and his love of men have won for him the gratitude and homage and remembrance of the whole Christian world.