INSTRUCTION FOR THE FEAST OF ST. PATRICK
by Leonard Goffine, 1871
St. Patrick was born about tbe year 415 at Bonaven Taberniae, a village of Britain, probably the present Kilpatrick in Scotland. His father Calphurnius was of a noble Roman family, his mother Concessa was a relation of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. Patrick remained until his fifteenth year, in his father's house and then, as he says himself in a book entitled Confession, and written towards the end of his life, God was pleased to lead him to his high vocation through a very painful and laborious preparatory school.
In those remote times Ireland was a mountainous, inhospitable country, covered all over with forests, bogs and morasses. Her inhabitants were wild and unpolished, lived by war and robbery; only a few of them had some little knowledge of the true God. The Britons, on the contrary, under the sway of the Romans were already imbued with a certain degree of culture and had adopted the Christian Faith. The Irish, however, were hardier warriors than the effemminate Britons; in their naval expeditions they visited the shores of England, landed here and there, attacked villages and unfortified towns, sacked them, and carried the inhabitants into slavery. A swarm of rapacious Irish, assailed a manor belonging to Calphurnius, and cut down the domestics who attempted to resist. The parents were absent, but young Patrick and a number of the male servants were made prisoners and carried over to Ireland. From this day the son of Calphurnius, hitherto accustomed to every comfort of a wealthy home, entered upon a long and severe noviciate of six years. Slave to a coarse barbarian he had to drive his master's cattle into the woods, to guard and feed them; not seldom he must spend, unsheltered, whole nights among bogs and marshes; he was often cruelly beaten. Thus engaged in an endless struggle against hunger and thirst, heat and frost, deprived of every earthly consolation, and of every hope of deliverance, St. Patrick was taught by his misfortunes, to turn his eyes towards heaven, and in fervent prayers to have recourse to God and His blessed Providence, which always knows and possesses the means to console those, who lovingly confide in it. St. Patrick now commenced a new life; a celestial light now illumined his soul, and warmed his heart. He now examined his past life; the sorrow for having squandered so many years by not perfectly loving God, drew the most bitter tears from his eyes. Even towards the end of his pilgrimage, as the Saint himself avows in his book of Confession, every day he still bewailed that time of his youth not devoted to God. Humble and resigned he henceforth suffered all in a spirit of penance, and with confidence in the goodness of God awaited the hour of his delivery.
At length, after a severe trial of six years, this hour struck for Patrick. In a dream he was ordered to leave his master's house and go to the sea shore; there he would find a vessel ready to take him on board. Patrick obeyed; after a travel of several days he arrived at the very spot on the shore shown him in the dream, and there found a vessel going to start. But, unfortunately, Patrick had no money to pay for his passage, and in spite of all prayers the master of the ship refused to take him. Deeply afflicted Patrick was about to return to his master, but he had scarcely made several steps, when the owner became good-humored, recalled Patrick and took him on board.
After a favorable voyage they landed on the shore of Northern Scotland, a desert wilderness in which they wandered about, discovering nowhere a human abode. Their provisions had all gone out. Patrick's companions were yet heathens; already on board he had told them of the God of the Christians and of His infinite love. Almost starving, they now, reminded Patrick of his words and besought him to implore his God. For if the Christians God, they said, is really almighty and merciful, he both can and will save us from starvation. Patrick penetrated by a lively faith, resolutely promised them the approach of delivery within an hour, in case of their sincere conversion to the true God. He was immediately absorbed in silent prayer, and no sooner had this hour elapsed, than they encountered a considerable number of wild hogs; some of these being hunted gave them sufficient meat to complete their travel of 24 days.
Patrick's patience however was subjected to another hard trial. Though his pagan companions had witnessed, how soon Patrick's prayer was heard, yet before eating they sacrificed all the flesh to their idols; this forced Patrick to abhor all such meat and rather to suffer the most fearful hunger than defile himself. He was afflicted less by his own hunger and thirst than at the incomprehensible spiritual blindness of these heathens, who in spite of an evident miracle would not desist from their idolatry. Finally, after many days of suffering Patrick happily came to his home; where, however, he enjoyed only a short repose. He was for a second and third made prisoner, but these times he was soon delivered.
After God had by this long course of sufferings prepared His servant for the high vocation of being Ireland's guide to the only saving faith, He now called Patrick to the priesthood. Being once absorbed in prayer Patrick, in a vision, saw himself carried over to Ireland and there beheld a numberless crowd of children, who with lamentable cries came forth from the maternal wombs and stretched out their hands for help. In another vision he heard voices from the western shore, which cried out to him: "Come, we beseech thee, walk among us."
Patrick resolved to obey this heavenly call; but he had no more than uttered his purpose, when he was opposed from all sides, and above all by his parents, who almost persuaded him to give up his pious project. Then, however God Himself, in a series of wonderful apparitions revealed to Patrick His unmistakable and adorable will. These strengthened Patrick's resolution, so that he would not be kept back by any obstacle; he became firmly determined to go to Ireland in order to bear salvation to her people. Not one would accompany him to the work of saving those poor, neglected souls; he caused therefore himself to be consecrated bishop, that he might afterwards ordain such Irish converts, as by zeal and science should be qualified to be his fellowlaborers. After overcoming many hindrances Patrick was at length consecrated bishop; now he left all, his native country, his parents and relations, to embark for the northernmost border of the then known world, to spread the light of the Gospel. With the zeal of an Apostle he was ready to undergo for the sake of Jesus all sorts of dangers, even tortures and martyrdom, most fervently thanking God for having enabled him during a six years captivity to acquire the Irish language, as he thus could preach to them the Doctrine of the Cross in their own mother-tongue.
Indeed the blessings which followed every step of St. Patrick were exceeding and inexpressible. Whithersoever he came, the people flocked together and, as it were, clung to the lips of the saintly preacher; hunters and warriors, at other times untamed and cold of sentiment, were changed into tame, calm and obedient lambs, and at the close of each sermon all would stretch forth their arms towards him, beseeching him for the holy Sacrament of Baptism. But St. Patrick would by no means baptize them before they were sufficiently instructed in every article of the Faith; and now the Irish proved how eager they were to learn the true Faith, as they were ever unwearied in listening to him. Like unto a second St. Paul did also St. Patrick preach from morning to the very dark.
The Saint, however, upon seeing the great success of his apostolic sermons, so evidently assisted by Heaven, now determined to provide this Vineyard of Christ with its necessary laborers. To this purpose he selected such converts of each district, as shewed themselves sufficiently zealous and educated, and by the imposition of his episcopal hands ordained them acolyths, deacons and priests.
To this young Irish clergy, as also to the prospering parishes St. Patrick carefully imparted all good counsel and directed them wisely, at the same time erecting churches in all parts of the country. After St. Patrick had already labored upon this Island, Britain at length remembered him, and sent to him two fellow laborers, the bishops Auxentius and Iserinus, whose aid the saint most joyfully accepted. He immediately went about erecting a number of Irish Episcopal seats, to which he gave intelligent and pious bishops.
Nor even did it suffice the Apostle of Ireland to strengthen and fortify those already converted in their faith; nay, he moreover wished to lead them upon the very path of christian perfection. Thus he taught young widows to devote their lives to abstinence; he persuaded young, tender maids to transform their bodies into living temples of God by preserving their precious purity unsullied; he moreover encouraged wealthy youths to lavish their riches upon the needy and to follow Jesus with free and undivided hearts. No sooner had the Saint commenced to guide people on this way of perfection, than he experienced the exceeding consolation of seeing those, who embraced this seemingly rough, but actually delightlul state, increase to such a number, as allowed him to erect monasteries for both sexes. One day he baptized a young girl of exceedingly beautiful form, and scarcely sixteen years ot age. A few days after, the girl returned to St. Patrick indicating to him an apparition to her (probably of her guardian angel) in which she was taught, that it would be agreeable to God, if she would devote her life exclusively to Him. The Saint saw her heart and recognized this to be her very vocation,--she thus as a bride to Jesus obtained the sacred veil at the hands of St. Patrick.
Our Saint had already reached an advanced age; at the close of his life he had the soothing consolation to see nearly all Ireland adoring the Crucified, whom he incessantly preached to them. Indeed he knew no treasure on earth more precious and dear to him, than his flock, which he had purchased with so many sufferings and grievances. Day and night did he then watch over this cherised flock, never ceasing to pray for the grace of perseverance on the part of his converts. And truly, no other country ever after manifested the blessed influence of Holy Religion more perseveringly than Ireland. For, before St. Patrick had there preached the Gospel, the whole nation was sunk into a deplorable barbarism, grovelling in a miserable state of life, whilst the selfsame people half a century after its saintly Apostle's death rivalled every civilized nation. Every church and monastery he provided with excellent schools; their great and celebrated masters reared scholars equally great and celebrated; so that in the course of several centuries men flocked to Ireland from all parts, there to still their thirst for knowledge, there to cultivate their minds and to receive the Doctrines of Salvation at a font, which they well knew to be pure and unstained. In fact Ireland became the school of Saints, so that she even deserved to be styled "Isle of the Saints". Numerous Irish, as for instance Sts. Columban, Gallus, Fridolin, Chilian and others started out for France and Germany, there also to propagate the true Faith.
St. Patrick died at a very high age. His body, originally deposited in a church at Down, which was at a later period dedicated to the Saint himself, was discovered in the year 1185. The Irish, whose ancestors were gained to Jesus Christ, and the Isle itself, where he overturned and abolished the low worship of idols, thenceforth remained signally under the happy, blessed influence of the Saint; for although Luther's unhappy heresy entered into Great Britain, causing a great havoc among its people deluded by the false gospel, yet Ireland, despite all persecution and oppressions, stood faithful and undaunted to the banner of the Old Catholic Church. Down to the present day, every Irish heart remembers St. Patrick, its champion and patron, with sentiments of singular gratitude and devotedness.
At the Introit of the Mass the Church says: The Lord made to him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince, that the dignity of the priesthood should be to him forever. (Eccl. xlv.) O Lord, remember David and all his meekness. (Ps. cxxxi.) Glory, &c.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, who hast vouchsafed to send Thy Confessor and Bishop, the blessed Patrick; to announce Thy glory to the nations, grant us through his merits and intercession, that with Thy mercy we be enabled to perform, what Thou commandest us to do. Thro.
LESSON. (Eccl. xliv. xlv.) Behold, a great priest, who in his days pleased God and was found just, and in the time of wrath he was made a reconciliation. There was not found the like to him who preserved the law of the Most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord gave him glory in his posterity. He gave him the blessing of all nations, and confirmed his covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in his blessings, he preserved for him his mercy: and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory. He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him the great priesthood, and made him blessed in glory. To execute the office of the priesthood, and to have praise in his name, and to offer him due incense for an odor of sweetness.
EXPLANATION. The text of this instruction or lesson refers to the great and holy men of the Old Law, as to Enoch, Noe, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron. They merit to be taken as models of christian perfection, and actually were imitated as such by the holy bishops of our mother the Church, wherefore God in His mercy showered upon them His graces and exalted them above the powerful of this earth, as we see in St. Patrick, and crowned them with the diadem of eternal glory. The praise of the Almighty was continually on the lips of St. Patrick and the incense of prayer and good work daily ascended to His throne, wherefore God also in return blessed him with honors in heaven and on earth.