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On this day, March 17, we honour Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the northern tribes of that country in the early fifth century.

A native of Cornwall or Devon, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates who sold him into slavery in their homeland. Six years later he fled his Irish masters, returned to Britain, and was eventually ordained to the priesthood. He had a vision that he would return to the land of his former captivity, and around the year 438 the vision came true. He was made a bishop and given charge over the mission to the Irish.

Despite his chronic sense of personal unworthiness, Patrick proved to be an effective organizer, and his mission quickly evolved into a vibrant institution. He also encouraged the growth of Irish monasticism, and within a few generations of his death monks and nuns had replaced warriors as the heroes of the Irish people.

The great hymn called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” was probably not composed by him, but it does reflect the kind of Christian spirituality which he planted in the heart of the Irish nation — a spirituality deeply penitential, but still more deeply alive to the sustaining presence of Jesus Christ.

Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and
peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have
access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2.17–18

O God, we thank you for Patrick,
whom you took into your service,
to bring within the freedom of your household
those who once enslaved him.
Encourage us through his example,
that we may know your power made perfect in our weakness,
and delight in serving others
for the sake of him who became servant of all,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.