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Family Talk: The Patrick way of living and giving

St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach the Irish about Christianity. [Thinkstock]
St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach the Irish about Christianity. [Thinkstock]

By the time ye read this column, the wearin’ of the green day will be over and done. But since this is a grand tale to tell, I’ll be asking your forgiveness to indulge me with a little belated celebratin’ of St. Patrick.

When I was a wee lad, March 17 was no ordinary day. In my family it was a day to be celebrated in grand style. On St. Patty’s Day, you’d better be wearin’ your green, or you’ll be gettin’ pinched, don’t cha know. My great-grandmother, Maggie O’Keefe, was an Irish lass who came to America on a Clipper ship but whose heart was never far from the Emerald Isle. Everyone in my family brought presents to Maggie on the 17th of March as if offering sacrifices at a temple. It was the thing to do, of course! And if you ever forgot, she’d be remindin’ you.

But in all my childhood wearin’ of green and honoring Maggie and saying “top of the mornin',” I never heard the story of the real St. Patrick. It’s a shame I learned the story late. But I learned it, nevertheless, and it’s one I’ll be wantin’ to share with you this day.

Some folks think St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but that wasn’t the case. He was a real man with a wonderful story that teaches us lessons of forgiveness and persistence. The man who became known as St. Patrick was actually named Maewyn and was born in Wales about 385 AD. When Maewyn was 16, he was captured by a band of marauders and sold into slavery in Ireland. During his six-year imprisonment, Maewyn discovered and drew close to God. He finally escaped and went to a monastery in another country to become a priest. While there, Maewyn took the Christian name Patrick.

Patrick’s great desire was to return to Ireland and convert the native pagans to Christianity. Eventually, he was appointed second bishop to Ireland. He traveled throughout Ireland establishing monasteries, schools and churches, which aided him in converting the Irish to Christianity. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity by showing how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit could all exist independently but still be one. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day. He died on March 17, and that day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since.

Although St. Patrick’s Day is best known for parties and wearing green, ’tis a day to remember Patrick’s passion and love for a people who had once enslaved him. He returned to minister to the country of his captivity. Patrick was persistent and forgiving, traits that we often need in family life today.

Perhaps someone in your family has “done you wrong.” Maybe they have mistreated you or somehow “enslaved” you for years. Take a page from St. Patrick’s book. With God’s help, begin by forgiving. Then, go beyond forgiveness to service. Find ways to minister to the needs of those who have wronged you. It’s not easy, but it is the Patrick way. A very good way, indeed, don’t cha know.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›