St. Patrick, Bold Faith

Are you familiar with the classic hymn, "Be Thou My Vision"? Did you know the story behind it was inspired by the life of St. Patrick?

On the Eve of Easter (and during the Celtic feast of Bealtaine), 432, the High King Loaghaire prepared to kindle the “new fire” on top of a hill at Tara, the ancient capital of Ireland. All fires had to be extinguished as the High King lit the “first fire,” from which all others would then be lit. The Druids would then take these fires to their homes. But on this night of the Druid New Year, another first fire, ignited by the Holy Spirit himself, had already been lit in the heart of a man named Patrick. As such, Patrick couldn’t bear to stand back and watch this festival take place without opposition.

So Patrick built a fire of his own on the hill of Slane opposite the hill of Tara. The Druids complained to Loaghaire that the fire, lighted in defiance of his royal edict, would blaze forever unless they extinguished it that very night. Nine chariots were sent against the saint. But Patrick’s fire seemed to have magical powers and the kings’ men were unable to prevail against the power of this holy fire.

The next day, Loaghaire invited Saint Patrick to Tara, intending to ambush and kill him along the way. Patrick accepted the invitation. Along the path, he and eight young clerics began reciting the Breastplate Prayer (a.k.a., the “Deer’s Cry”). As the soldiers readied the ambush, a cloak of darkness fell over the men causing the soldiers to see only eight deer and a fawn going past them. Even the Druid wizards had warned the king that the posterity of this man would remain until doomsday, because he was the herald of the Prince of Peace. In the end, Loaghaire was forced to concede that Patrick’s God was more powerful than the gods of the Druids. From that time on, the influence of Saint Patrick spread until all of Ireland had heard the message of Easter, thanks to the courage and anointing of this remarkable disciple of Jesus Christ.

Today, a statue of St. Patrick sits atop Tara, an area once dedicated to the ancient pagan kings, while ruins of a 1512 "friary church" sit atop Slane. Each serves as a monument to the fire that "would blaze forever" throughout the Emerald Isle.

Patrick's boldness at Slane would eventually inspire an Irish folk song simply called Slane. Nearly two centuries later, the saintly poet Dallán Forgaill would pen the words to Rop tú mo Baile, which translated means Be Thou My Vision. Both the poem and the folk song were destined to meet, and today we have one more reason to be inspired by the life of St Patrick every time we sing this beloved and ancient hymn.

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and the Easter season, “May your blessings outnumber the Shamrocks and may the strength of Three be in your journey.”
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