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The Miracles of St. Patrick—How He Really Converted Ireland to Christianity

Fr Lawrence Lew OP CC

Bert Ghezzi - published on 03/17/16

For three years Patrick devoted himself to acquiring spiritual disciplines and practical skills at the monastery of Lerins. Then he spent fifteen more at Auxerre, where the great monk and bishop St. Germanus was his mentor. Patrick’s training prepared him to be a church planter, not a scholar. Later he keenly felt his lack of education and often bemoaned it. However, he knew that for his task he needed pastoral wisdom more than scholarship. During this time Patrick was ordained a deacon and a priest. Ireland’s first bishop, St. Palladius, died in 431 after only one year of service. Patrick succeeded him as bishop and launched his divinely appointed enterprise in 432.

The pivotal event in St. Patrick’s ministry occurred in the spring of 433. He was determined to win the support of High King Laoghaire, the powerful ruler of central Ireland, whose blessing would open doors for him everywhere. His resolve to gain the king’s support precipitated a dramatic confrontation with leading druids. Patrick’s triumph over them in a contest of spiritual power versus magic secured the success of his mission at its outset.

It happened on the night before Easter. Laoghaire was celebrating a pagan festival at Tara, his base in central Ireland. By law no one in the land was permitted to kindle a fire until the ceremonial beacon of Royal Hill was lit. Miles away atop the Hill of Slane, Patrick had gathered his followers for the Easter Vigil. Unaware of the prohibition against fires, Patrick opened the liturgy by striking the new fire, the vivid symbol of Christ’s resurrection. Had he know of the prohibition, he probably would have ignored it anyway.

King Laoghaire, his barons and the druids saw Patrick’s paschal fire and were enraged. The druids, sensing imminent danger, warned the king that he must extinguish the fire immediately. If not, said one prophetically, “it will never be extinguished in Ireland. Moreover, it will outshine all the fires we light. And he who has kindled it will conquer us all.” So the king and eight chariots full of warriors headed for Patrick’s camp.

Upon arrival the king summoned Patrick and demanded an explanation. Patrick responded with a simple summary of the gospel. When Drochu, a leading druid, made fun of Christian mysteries, Patrick prayed aloud that he be punished. With that, Drochu was swooped high into the air and dropped to his death. The warriors then attempted to capture Patrick, but he prayed they would be scattered. A dark cloud and a whirlwind descended on them, causing a panic in which many perished.

The king cowered at this demonstration of might. In his fright, he made a pretense of acknowledging God and invited Patrick to speak about the Christian faith to his barons at Tara. Then he left Slane, planning to lie in wait to ambush Patrick and his associates. When Patrick and his band passed by, however, they were invisible to Laoghaire and his would-be assassins. As the Christians escaped, they chanted for the first time the saint’s famous Breastplate. The prayer calls upon the power of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the angels, and all of heaven against every conceivable danger. In the following years, Patrick would pray it often.

On Easter Day, King Laoghaire held a banquet at Tar as part of the pagan religious festival. Patrick and five companions mystified the gathering by passing through locked doors and appearing in their midst. Invited to sit near the king, Patrick was then given a drink that Lucat-Mael, the chief druid, had laced with poison. Discerning the mischief, Patrick made a sign of the cross over the cup, and the beverage froze, except for the drop of poison. Everyone watched as Patrick poured it on the table. He blessed the cup again, and his drink returned to normal.

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