The fourteenth day of Lent
Thursday after 2 Lent
One of the best known and most popular of the British saints is the Scot who became the Apostle of Ireland. His feast day, March 17th, invariably falls in Lent, giving the Irish and wannabe Irish everywhere an excuse to set aside the Lenten fast in order to feast on corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and beer. At the age of 16, Patrick was carried into captivity by Irish raiders and spent the next six years as a slave in Ireland. Rather than sinking into despair and a loathing for the land of his captivity, Patrick became more and more deeply confirmed in his faith and a desire to share it with the very people who, though they had enslaved him, were the true slaves in his mind, slaves to the pagan religion that held them in darkness. Thus, when he found an opportunity to escape, he left Ireland with every intention of returning, not for vengeance but for redemption. It was some years before he returned, as he first apprenticed as a missionary under the great Saint Germain in his work at Auxerre and later in Britain.
With the blessing of the Pope, Patrick returned to Ireland in 433 to begin his mission. He was strongly opposed by the dominant Druids who exercised great influence over the secular rulers. As Patrick made his progress across Ireland, he learned that Leoghaire, the High King, had summoned the Irish chieftains to an assembly at Tara on March 26th, Easter Day. Patrick determined to be there. Arriving on Easter Even, the Feast of the Annunciation, Patrick prepared to celebrate the Paschal Feast on the hill of Slane, opposite Tara. In the meantime, it had been decreed that all fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until fire was kindled at Tara at the beginning of the assembly. The darkness of Ireland was complete in every way when Patrick lit the New Fire of Easter. The King and the Druids were enraged but their efforts to extinguish the fire and to kill Patrick failed. The next day, as Patrick and his supporters approached Tara, the Druids conjured a thick darkness to cover Tara but the prayers of Patrick prevailed once again and bright sunshine illuminated the scene as Patrick proclaimed the Gospel to the assembly. At last, Leoghaire relented and gave permission for the Gospel to be proclaimed throughout Ireland. The first public Baptism in Ireland, that of a brother of the King himself, took place on April 5th, a day now remembered as "the beginning of the Baptism of Erin."
The stirring concluding verses of Mrs. Alexander's translation of St. Patrick's Breastplate, evoking the transcendent power of the Name of the Triune God, the intimate nearness of Christ, and the inseparable nature of God's work of creation and salvation are appropriate in any season.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
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