Saint Patrick, an Example and Intercessor for those on the Threshold of Cultural Change

The popular image of Saint Patrick has suffered a fate similar to that of Saint Nicholas. His image has degenerated into a soft toy character, with notes of condescending “oirishness”, associated with the colour green, leprechauns, Guinness, and silly hats. Each year, priests and laity who love him as a saint and respect the great cultural influence that he had in his time, and which lasted for centuries in the land he evangelised, try to put the record straight. I hope to do my bit.

Saint Patrick is justly credited with a major role in the conversion of Ireland from Celtic Polytheism to Christian truth. This may seem remote from our present concerns, but we need only consider the rise of new age spirituality, often indeed garnished with the popular adjective association of "Celtic", to see that the problem has resurfaced.

Nowadays it is not so much that many gods are worshipped, as that a gnostic, supposedly superior, “spirituality” has taken the place of the Christian creed, towing in its wake a resistance to the natural law and even the truth of our human nature. This scorn for the teaching of Christ would be recognised by St Patrick and his mentor and ordaining bishop, St Germanus of Auxerre, back in the fifth century. When people say, “I am spiritual but not religious”, those learned saints and scholars might well have pointed out that there are plenty of intelligent beings who are spiritual but not religious; they are called demons and we do well to avoid imitating them.

Today, we also face the new religion of atheistic humanism which places human discovery and skill as the pinnacle of wisdom, rejecting the God who created the universe. This was also a current in the fifth century, though not as deeply embedded as it is today.

Saint Patrick is known in the East as the “Enlightener of Ireland”. He stood alongside other great saints of the period, on the threshold of a major change in civilisation and culture, the transition from the dominance of the Roman empire, which was collapsing, to the seedlings of the Christian culture which would spread not only throughout the former empire, but eventually to most of the world, thanks to advances in science and technology in the high middle ages, which also found their roots in the development of civilisation and education that were the fruits of Christendom.

Saint Patrick, baptised thousands, ordained many priests, and treated with civil rulers to persuade them to the worship of Christ. His Christian faith, wisdom and commitment to mission is sorely needed in Ireland today as well as in England and much Europe that was evangelised by those Celtic missionaries who followed soon after him.

St Patrick is an important intercessor for us today. The tremendous loss of faith in Ireland over recent decades is a great sadness. Within living memory Ireland was a country that was renowned for its devotion and sent thousands of priests across the world to spread the faith. For those of us with Irish ancestry, the loss of such a powerhouse of Catholic faith, devotion and cultural solidity is heart-breaking, and we pray to our patron for those who are valiantly continuing his work.

The need for his powerful example, inspiration, and intercession is not restricted to Ireland. Around the world, harm is done by error not only concerning faith and morals, but also in relation to basic philosophy concerning truth, human nature, and the value of human life. Christ is indeed the light to enlighten the nations and we must ask for the grace to preach Him without fear, as Saint Patrick did, in union with the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.


PICTURE CREDIT: Wikimedia. St. Patrick Baptizing Irish Princesses (1904) in John Haaren, "Famous Men of the Middle Ages". Public Domain.

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