According to one legend, Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Whether this is true or not is not my concern. But I believe that he did drive the snakes out of his own heart.
As a lad of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland. Put this way, Patrick seems like a good patron for all those who are victims of human trafficking.
Anyway, in Ireland, herding the animals of his master, he found his Master and he deepened his faith.
After his escape, he studied and became a priest. In Gaul, modern day France, where he was studying, he experienced a call to go to Ireland. His superiors tried to dissuade him, but he persisted. He was finally ordained a wandering missionary bishop and went to Ireland.
Patrick returned to the land of his enslavement, the land where he spent six years of his life as a herder of sheep.
He could have been angry, resentful. But he had let God purge his heart and drive out the snakes of vengeance and resentment.
He went to Ireland with a desire for the salvation of the people – not their condemnation. He went with love, willing to give his life for them.
As he wrote in his Confession,
I am ready, if found worthy, to lay down my life gladly and without hesitation for [God], and I desire to spend it here until death if the Lord grant me that wish.
What he wished for the Irish people – including his captors – was life in God, not death. He did not wish to take life in revenge – but was willing to give his life in love.
God had driven out the snakes from his heart.
But Ireland, as many places in our world, has suffered from the snakes of revenge, resentment, and separation – to the point of violence and war.
Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, puts it well:
The Gospel drove Patrick to return to his oppressors that he might devote his life to their peaceful conversion and the cause of their salvation. But the spiritual conquest of Ireland followed the prior victory of love over the anger and bitterness in his won heart. If the memory of this dimension of St. Patrick’s life had long ago become a feature of his feast day celebration, it might be said that there are no serpents left in Ireland.
May God drive the snakes from our hearts so that we may sow God’s love and peace wherever we may be.
Today, I pray that God may drive out the vengeance and bitterness that is in the hearts of so many here and throughout the word.
And I pray that God may use me to do the little I can do. St. Patrick, help me to do this.