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Story of St. Patrick offers important lesson during Lent, says Pennsylvania-based priest

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This year of 2024, the Fifth Sunday of Lent coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, the feast of the patron saint of Ireland. 

And while many people are taking the opportunity to revel in all things Irish, a priest told Fox News Digital that the story of St. Patrick is a timely reminder of the power of God’s forgiveness. 

St. Patrick is subject to “a good deal of folklore” and misconceptions that are not entirely factual, Fr. Timothy Harris, T.O.R., told Fox News Digital. Harris is pastor at St. John Vianney Parish in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and is a chaplain for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic men’s fraternal organization. 

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St. Patrick himself was not Irish — he was likely born in Wales or Scotland, but his birthplace is uncertain. 

“Either way, it is clear that it was not Ireland,” said Harris. 

st. patrick statue split with image of Fr. Timothy Harris, T.O.R.

Fr. Timothy Harris, T.O.R., at right, is a Catholic priest based in Pennsylvania. He is also a chaplain with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization. (iStock/Courtesy of Fr. Timothy Harris, T.O.R.)

St. Patrick came to Ireland after he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and sold into slavery. 

He was a slave, working as a shepherd, until he was age 22, said Harris, “when God led him to return to his home and family.” 

There’s also no evidence that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, said Harris, but it is a “wonderful tradition.” 

St. Patrick is “an excellent example of God’s mercy and love that is constantly offered to us.”

While these stories are nice, they are not why St. Patrick is celebrated each year, a millennia after his death. 

“The most important elements of his story that history does confirm are what make him such a brilliant saint for us to celebrate today,” said Harris.

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After his return to his family, St. Patrick was ordained a bishop and “returned to the island that enslaved him, to become a servant of Christ to share [God’s] love with the Irish,” said Harris. 

In particular for young people, St. Patrick is “an excellent example of God’s mercy and love that is constantly offered to us, even when, in one’s youthful pride, one might not recognize the need for forgiveness.”

St. Patrick's Day parade

St. Patrick is celebrated around the world every year on his feast day, March 17. (Angelo Merendino/Corbis via Getty Images)

As a child, St. Patrick was not religious himself, though his father was a deacon, said Harris. St. Patrick was actually “rebellious and easily influenced by the world around him.” 

Harris added, “The night he was kidnapped, he ‘snuck out’ from his home in the middle of the night to engage in some ‘shenanigans’ with friends when they came upon the coastal raiders.”

This “youthful indiscretion” would alter the course of his life dramatically as well as that of the Irish people.

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“The choice Patrick made that night was to reject his faith and open himself to true evil through the occult,” said Harris. 

“His fascination with the arcane elements of the surrounding pagan religions of his time enticed him to rebel against his parents’ direction and the truth of Christ’s care and protection.” 

St. Patrick's Cathedral nave

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is located in New York City and is the seat of the archbishop of New York City. The current St. Patrick’s Cathedral replaced the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1879. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

It was while he was tending sheep, far from home in a foreign land, when St. Patrick truly grasped the gravity of what he had done — and how he could fix his situation. 

“He turned back to the God who never left him and awaited his return,” said Harris. 

Equipped with “a humbled heart and a contrite spirit,” St. Patrick found strength and comfort in God.

“Patrick entered into a new covenant with God that brought him peace in his distress and hope, a most powerful gift for someone found lost in the dark. Through the next six years, Patrick spent many hours in prayer, re-embracing his Catholic faith, which, as a boy, he barely acknowledged.” 

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Equipped with “a humbled heart and a contrite spirit,” St. Patrick found strength and comfort in God, he said. 

The story of St. Patrick dovetails well with the readings preached in Catholic churches during the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Harris told Fox News Digital. 

ashes for Holy Week

“Our Lord will never abandon us. Unseen, He walks with us, invites us into His mercy and stands ready to bring us salvation.”  (iStock)

“Our readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent begin with a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, who calls the people of God to repent of their past sinful choices, their indiscretions, and to turn back to the Lord to receive the gift of hope that never ends,” said Harris.

In particular, the line, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” is representative of the transformation that St. Patrick experienced while he was a slave in Ireland.

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“So many youth today, and many of us who still act more ‘childish’ than ‘childlike,’ need to hear the story of St. Patrick. Our choices have consequences,” he said, 

Choosing to reject God in favor of “the evils of this world” is putting oneself at risk of “unimaginable dangers.” 

“So many youth today, and many of us who still act more ‘childish’ than ‘childlike,’ need to hear the story of St. Patrick. Our choices have consequences.”

“However, our Lord will never abandon us. Unseen, He walks with us, invites us into His mercy and stands ready to bring us salvation,” said Harris. 

“But He is a lover, not a thug. He will never force Himself upon us. When we open ourselves to Him, He will bring us what we need, in our time of need.” 

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After all, “the only unforgivable sin is the one that we do not ask God to forgive,” he said.

“This Lent, let us all, following the example of St. Patrick, humbly turn to our God and Father for the forgiveness of our sins, so we might find true peace,” he said.

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