St. Patrick's Humility
I don’t have any authority to say so, but I would simply guess that our beloved St. Patrick would be a little puzzled as to why his life and death as a bishop occasions little green fairy men, publicly-sanctioned drunkenness, and frequent excusing of the Lenten sacrifices and fasts we’ve made. If we are to honor St. Patrick, perhaps we could begin by looking at his own words, discarding—just for a moment—the great well-known stories of his service to God. For he saw nothing of a legend within himself.
The saint’s autobiography, called his Confessio, tells us that he recognized himself as a sinner foremost; he was a man of deep humility and let himself be childlike before God. His first words are:
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.
As his story continues, we find that most of it reads like a prayer: what God spoke to him, and the effusive and never-ending gratitude that he offers to God.
I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God.
Unlike we might expect, the Confessio does not read like some heroic adventure; we do not hear of him breaking his chains of slavery, fighting pagans, and chasing after snakes bearing staff and miter. No, he tells of his deep devotion, of his weaknesses, of God’s aid in his darkest times:
I tell of how the good God often freed me from slavery, and from twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express.
All he wished people to know of him is stated near the close of his little confession, where he wishes the reader to know that he knowingly and willingly gave his life in God’s service.
May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance.
Another example of “Patrician spirituality” lies in the familiar, beautiful Lorica or Breastplate of St. Patrick. The prayer emphasizes ever so firmly a complete reliance upon God; every aspect of the prayer, much like the autobiography, is inundated with reminders of the speaker’s dependence upon God’s work and power. It also shows a keen awareness of the forces of evil in the world which are set against the soul. The prayer invokes God’s aid against conspirators, witches, false prophets, heretics, idolatry, temptations of the flesh, and even fatal wounds that would prevent the soul from receiving its reward. Perhaps as a reflection of the saint’s love of the Holy Trinity and his understand of its centrality, the prayer begins thus:
I bind myself today to the strong virtue of invocation of the Trinity; the faith of the Trinity in the Unity…
Given what we have seen of St. Patrick’s spirituality, how should we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? That is, what would St. Patrick ask of us? No more than he said of himself.
I know for certain that poverty and calamity are more my style than riches and enjoyment.
Perhaps St. Patrick’s day occasions a sacrifice: almsgiving, a voluntary penance, a gentle acceptance of the trials of the day. Furthermore:
For [God] I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. However, God is not influenced by such personal situations, and he chose me for this task so that I would be one servant of his very least important servants.
His feast is a day to preach Christ crucified, and to humble ourselves as the lowest of low. Rather than live St. Patrick’s Day in secular dissolution, we ought instead to be ambassadors for Christ, and servants to His servants. Only then can we honor the sainthood and legacy of St. Patrick, whose greatness lies in his humility and service to the Living God.