Irish O’Brien prepares for his turn as St. Patrick

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 15, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Celebrating the feast of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, merits more than the fun-loving parades and parties allow. In fact, these many centuries after his era, St. Patrick stands out in the history of civilization as one whose life and teachings continue to instruct mankind.

&uot;We need to celebrate life, to call time out every now and then and have a little bit of fun,&uot; said the Rev. Mike O’Brien, Irish by birth and the pastor of Assumption Catholic Church and assistant pastor at St. Mary Basilica.

&uot;But it’s important to keep our balance. We’re celebrating the feast of a saint whose life was the model of social justice.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

O’Brien, taking the role of St. Patrick for the Krewe of Killarney festivities on Monday, will lead the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which ends at the bluff with the traditional tossing of all available snakes into the Mississippi River.

The legend that credits St. Patrick with chasing all snakes out of Ireland is just that, however &045; a legend that has no authenticity, writes Thomas Cahill in &uot;How the Irish Saved Civilization.&uot;

Further, Cahill says the beloved Irish prayer attributed to St. Patrick may not be his at all but surely was inspired by him.

In part it says:

&uot;I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth, firmness of rock.

&uot;I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me Š

&uot;Christ with me, Christ before me Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me Š&uot;

It is the spirituality of the Irish saint that dominates the day set aside to honor him. Still, O’Brien said, the fun is in the Irish spirit as well.

Even in the land of his birth, the celebration has taken on a lighter tone, he said. &uot;In recent years, tourism has taken over, and it has become more of a party in Ireland,&uot; he said.

Patrick was a slave, captured by traders and brought to Ireland by his captors, O’Brien said. He escaped, and he answered God’s call to return to Ireland and to take Christianity to the people there. &uot;In the year 432, he went to Ireland as a bishop, and of course he became the patron saint of Ireland,&uot; he said.

O’Brien, one of eight children, grew up in rural Ireland in the 1950s. Both parents were teachers. He studied for six years in a seminary named after St. Patrick before he came to the United States, specifically to Mississippi as a young priest.

The remarkable faith of St. Patrick continues to amaze those who read of how the young man forgave and even embraced those who had enslaved him. &uot;Many believe he is the first human being to speak out against slavery,&uot; O’Brien said. &uot;He convinced the Irish people to give up slavery in a short period of time.&uot;

Patrick’s education was interrupted because of his enslavement. &uot;His form of Christianity was very earthy,&uot; O’Brien said. &uot;He identified with the Irish people, and instead of trying to wipe out their old customs, traditions and paganism, he incorporated them and built on them as natural qualities of his Christianity.&uot;

As Cahill says in his book, Patrick &uot;Š transmuted their pagan virtues of loyalty, courage and generosity into the Christian equivalents of faith, hope and charity.&uot;

The example Patrick set in embracing his enemies is one that modern mankind could benefit from remembering and emulating, O’Brien said.

&uot;He was a slave. Instead of being bitter about it, he forgave the people who had enslaved him and went back to serve his former enemies. Descendants of former slaves today can express deep bitterness. That doesn’t help. You have to get beyond that, as St. Patrick did,&uot; O’Brien said.

Cahill describes Patrick as making peace with God and then with others. He writes, &uot;Patrick prayed, made peace with God and then looked not only into his own heart but into the hearts of others. What he saw convinced him of the bright side &045; that even slave traders can turn into liberators, even murders can act as peacemakers, even barbarians can take their places among the nobility of heaven.&uot;