Neither the cold nor the snow storms can chill the heart of an Irish person (is anyone out there claiming not to be one) on St. Patrick's Day, which will be celebrated around the world on this next Mon., Mar. 17.
How did Patrick, a 4th and 5th century missionary, gain such acclaim and devotion that could warm the hearts and ease the pains of people over the centuries?
For one thing, he knew what hardships were and set an example of how people of any age can overcome them. Not only that, but how people of all centuries can make a difference through service to humanity.
In fact, in today's materialistic world, Americans and peoples the world over would be well advised to adopt the prescription for a good life from the wisdom of this Ancient Era prelate's life and humanitarian works. Instead, his feast day has been more for merrymaking than for learning about his life's lessons for success. As an Irish-American, I hope to change that lack of information with contrary facts here.
Now, I'll admit to consuming more "green beer" and corned beef and cabbage on that special day than I should have over the years. Of late, however, I've begun to study and to attempt to find a deeper meaning in St. Patrick's unique heritage and to apply it to my own life. I don't know how successful I've been, but anything is worth a try to self-improve. Hence, after my rather peaceful, guarded and loving parental upbringing in Indiana, it blows my mind to think of how I'd react, as a youth and an adult, to be treated as Patrick of Wales was about 1,600 years ago.
Youthful joys and sorrow!
In contrast to my and, no doubt, your rearings - the love of our parents, a carefree youth and being well fed, healthy and protected, we fondly remember our childhoods. Other adults today, who didn't have these carefree youthful benefits and parents shielding them from the often cruel outside world, can also learn from Patrick's life experiences.
Although Patrick is revered today as a very holy man, he didn't start out that way. His life's journey led him from the temptations of paganism to the peace, joys and love associated with Christianity. After a teenage tragedy putting him to the test, he didn't give up, but, instead, improved himself through self-examination, meditation, daring and education in the years to follow. Thus, he became the icon for a nation and a good example of how peace and love can be achieved the world over.
His biographical sketch
Probably born in Wales in about 387 A. D., he started life well off as the son of a wealthy Roman couple. Hence, his childhood was presumably as perfect a one as any rich parents could provide. Yet, even to the best of parents, sadness can befall them, as we Americans know from the awful daily news of stories of mistreated, abused, murdered or kidnapped children.
Abruptly ending his youthful bliss, Patrick was eyed by some evil slave traders of his time, for at the age of 16, he was captured by seafaring pirates. He was then sold as a slave to heathen farmers in Ireland far across the Irish Sea from his native Welsh home.
Like missing children of today, he couldn't even get word to his parents that he was okay, safe and alive, as he was being held in secret bondage.
Rather than playing as a teen, he, as a slave, was forced to do hard work in farming. He eventually became his master's shepherd, suffering much from the Emerald Isle's extreme cold and continual lack of food in that outdoor job. Those dark years in slavery, however, gave him much time to think, to put his mind to a life's plan, to strengthen his body and to open himself up for a spiritual conversion. In spite of his depressing bondage, he didn't let it get him down, using his alone time for meditation and inspiration to find himself and determine his own life's direction.
An update: Even today, who among us isn't a slave to something: our jobs, bad habits, to evil companions, addictions or afflictions? Our despair can often be traced to our childhoods, so we usually blame our parents, grandparents, etc. for our seemingly impossible-to-escape worldly slavery.
Back to late 300 AD: Hence, to start a lifelong adventure for a better future, Patrick used the long days and nights caring for the sheep by meditating on his future and if he could overcome the vices wrought by slavery.
During this quiet time in the meadows of the Emerald Isle, he formulated a positive life plan. First, he'd escape from his bondage, which he accomplished after six years. Under cover of darkness, he snuck across Ireland and boarded a vessel traveling to France. There, he came under the influence and training of a bishop, who was later canonized as St. Martin of Tours and, another holy man, St. Germanius. (We, in West Virginia, have holy men and women in our own communities who we can confide in, and to help us make that break from the past.)
Not making a hasty decision, and after studying religion long hours, Patrick accepted a calling from God to be a minister. As a result of his subsequent successful missions, at about 43 years of age, he was consecrated a Catholic bishop. It is written that in a dream, he saw the people of Ireland stretching out their hands to draw him back to that heathen island to save their souls. This dream he took seriously as an order from the Lord to accept a mission that he was most familiar, but held many dangers.
After traveling back to his former place of enslavement, he started his ministry in a low-key way, not to draw the attention of the powers that be, who had been his captors.
In taking his mission slowly, he traveled from tribe to tribe, bringing God's words in the Bible to the people. As a result, he was able - in his humble and understanding way - to convert the island from a totally pagan land into one embracing the Christian Faith, of which it has mostly remained to this day. Also notably, he was able to achieve this larger than life feat in only 30 years.
He accomplished this by using the Gaelic language skills, which he learned as an Irish slave. He became a powerful public speaker, negotiator, prelate, politician, and healer. Moreover, he brought the heathens to God in spite of - in many cases - being opposed by the local kings, pagan druids, and other official types in both Ireland and his native Britain. The druids were like local "medicine men," who were feared by their villagers.
So, in spite of his youthful horrors, Patrick made his servitude on that mysterious island a beneficial experience later in life.
If every human being took only a few minutes a week to meditate and identify his or her slave traits and, then, go out and conquer them, like Patrick, what a better life we'd enjoy these days!
Perhaps my most memorable time in visiting Ireland was standing with son, Patrick, on the mountain, now known as "Craigh Patrick." There, in 441, he wooed by his sincere and fiery sermons many thousands of listeners into the Christian religion and baptized them. Truly, ever since then, Irish pilgrims have ascended that Holy Mountain in prayer on a regular basis - commemorating that great day. (Note: As I've previously related to you readers, in the year 2001 when my son, Patrick, and I visited Craigh Patrick, and walked up it, we felt God all around us. It had quite a religious experience that had a lasting impact on me. I now want to know more about my Irish ancestors, and, yes, I felt while standing on that sacred mountain that there's, no doubt, God exists and He helps us and gives us strength in our daily lives, just like He inspired and strengthened Patrick some 1,500 years before.)
In addition, St. Patrick gave Ireland its political subdivisions, dividing the country into four different geographic sections which are still known and used today. On the educational and religious fronts, he founded numerous monasteries for the purposes of teaching, prayer, contemplation and knowledge.
By his writings and prayers left to posterity, he demonstrates his humility, courage and unwavering faith.
In the main, though, to convert an entire country to Christianity in only three decades must have taken quite a bit of luck. Maybe that's where the saying, "Luck of the Irish," originated!
Other modern applications
Today during this nagging recessionary period, many people, like Patrick, have fallen on bad times, and perhaps need some good luck. He created his own good luck by using his hard times to prepare for a more productive life in later years, so if he could do it why can't we? After all, our generation has the internet's Superhighway to seek out ways to improve ourselves, our churches, civic groups and businesses - an advantage that Patrick didn't have.
Indeed, he successfully made his turnaround neither by avoiding nor hiding from his dire difficulties, nor by moving-and-shaking as a diversion, seeking physical pleasures, and/or being counseled by psychiatrists (as we do today).
To the contrary, his common sense urged him to overcome self limitations and enemies, through thinking, praying, and quietly making his plans for a society's better future. His way might be less popular, lonelier, and internally harder, but it works - in his case, bringing him the good fortune to be named and remembered as the Patron Saint of his adopted Emerald Isle, the Father of the Irish Church, and the cheerful beacon for people of all times to emulate.
Well, as the Lord ordains, and His Hand touched, inspired, energized and protected St. Patrick during his many years of captivity, escape, study, priesthood, Christian teaching and travel adventures across a pagan land, the "good luck" of this saint was doubtless, assured and certain. The same turn-about journey can come about in our own lives in this 21th century.
In conclusion, we editors wish all of you readers that same "good luck" that was God's gift to St. Patrick, especially in conquering your personal captors. So, whenever you need cheering up, think of St. Pat's life - a winning initiative not only on this Monday, but also throughout the whole year.
And don't forget to wear a bit of green to keep the good cheer going in your hearts and in your lives.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin's staff will be at the Lewis County Senior Center, 171 W. 2nd St., starting at 10 a.m. Wed., Mar. 26 to answer questions about Social Security, and any other issues facing his constituents. Gilmer people are welcome!