TODAY'S Feast of St Patrick is celebrated the world over, but it also marks his death. It is a poignant thought, given that the Christianity that began in Ireland with Patrick 1,500 years ago is in such turmoil today.
Perhaps that's why 1,500 years after Patrick, Ireland again has foreign missionaries coming to our shores to preach.
Last weekend, I met a group of young Canadians who are in Ireland for nine months to teach young Irish people about Jesus Christ. They go from school to school spreading the Word.
There is something very ironic as we celebrate St Patrick's Day that Ireland is once again in need of missionaries, we who once sent missionaries all over the world, the Irish who in the view of one historian saved European civilisation and their souls. Now Europe is saving our skins with cash.
Saving our souls might be a little more difficult.
St Patrick must be rolling in his grave to see what has become of the religion that he brought to us. It's a shame that all too many people today see St Patrick the bishop, dressed in green with a bishop's mitre (pointed hat) and associate him with all the negativity the worst of institutional Catholicism brings to mind.
What they forget is the type of Christianity that he brought to Ireland was one of respect for nature and finding God in nature and in prayer, something that fitted in well with the Celts who had populated the land.
They were known for eloquence, lyric genius, volatile temperament, prodigality, reckless bravery, ebullience, contentiousness. They had a rich culture, political and legal systems and their own body of religious beliefs and practices.
Patrick's Christianity built on these and complemented them.
So what would Patrick say today to an Ireland on the brink of losing its formal Christianity?
Firstly, I think he would drive the last few snakes from Ireland, the ones in the banking sector that crashed our country, the ones in the Church who covered up child abuse, and the ones in politics and other professions who colluded in the whole sorry mess.
He'd also have strong words for those who got carried away in a greedy frenzy to buy overseas properties and larger homes, bigger cars and lose values that always made us distinctive as global citizens.
Those people tried so hard to be like everyone else and forgot our Irishness in the process.
I also think Patrick would ask us to look around ourselves this March 17 and see the beautiful country we live in, a country that people come from all around the world to visit despite the rain and high cost of living.
It is a magical country, filled with myths and legends, artefacts of our ancient Celtic ancestors strewn all over the country. It was also a land of saints and scholars, where people had informed opinions rather than rants for the radio.
Men and women also sought out the meaning of life and tried to connect with something more than themselves, something that made a spectacular universe.
The poet Brendan Kennelly once said that the problem with Christianity in Ireland is that it was never tried.
What we had was 'Churchianity' instead.
Maybe the key message of Patrick this March 17 would be to go back to our roots as a people and rediscover our Celtic and Christian heritage and find ourselves as a people -- and then we will find our Irish soul.