By Chaplain Jack Stumme
U.S. Africa Command
On March 17, many people will observe Saint Patrick’s Day. Most of us are going to wear something green (thank you to the military for taking care of that for a lot of service members!), look for pots of gold at the end of a rainbow, and indulge in green drinks. While Saint Patrick’s Day is fun for us, his own life was much different. But his story can still inspire us.
At about 14 years of age, Irish pirates kidnapped Patrick from his home village in Roman Britain and took him back to Ireland. There they forced him to herd and tend sheep. It is said that while tending sheep in the lonely Irish countryside, Patrick’s faith began to grow. At around the age of 20, Patrick escaped and traveled to the coast of Ireland where he found sailors who took him back to Britain and his family. We are told that after a few years at home, Patrick saw a vision that called him back to the very people who had enslaved him. Patrick entered into theological studies for the priesthood and on March 25, 433 C.E., he returned to Ireland where he served God and the people of Ireland for 28 years until his death on March 17, 461 C.E.
How can the life of Saint Patrick encourage us today as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic fallout?
First, we can see that Patrick never gave up hope, even while herding sheep alone, far from family and home. Hope is such a key ingredient to life! Wherever you are or whatever you are doing, find your hope. It could be in your personal faith or something else, but find hope because it is the key to resiliency. A second way to find encouragement from the example of Saint Patrick is to consider how he took a trying situation in his life and used it ultimately for good. Instead of harboring bitterness, he cared for his former captors and returned to help them. He did not focus on the past, but looked to the future.
Perhaps Saint Patrick’s experience was similar to that of Col. Nick Rowe, who was a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam. Col. Rowe wrote, “The enemy will never realize how much I thank them for taking everything material away from me and reducing me to the point where I didn’t have anything but faith in God. I had a chance to look at myself and realize that you can do things you never realized were possible.”
This March, don’t let COVID-19 or anything else keep you down. Rather, find your hope and look for opportunities to do good around you, just as Saint Patrick did. You too will find things you never realized were possible. And you don’t even need a lucky four-leaf clover. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!