Happy St. Patrick’s Day
On Wednesday, March 17, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day honoring Ireland’s most famous saint. To me, this holiday has always been one of the most curious ones on the calendar. Growing up, we celebrated it by wearing green or baking shamrock-shaped cookies at school or eating corned beef and cabbage for dinner. As an aside, I think it’s funny how the weekly e-blast for my son’s school says remember to wear green so you don’t get pinched…wait a minute, school is not even in-person yet, how exactly does one get pinched? Anyways, St. Paddy’s Day always just seemed like a strange cultural celebration though it never meant a day off from school or work and, as far as I can remember, we were never taught who St. Patrick was. Then several years ago I took a course called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” and I learned about the amazing story of St. Patrick’s life and how he helped bring Christianity to Ireland and other parts of Northern Europe.
St. Patrick was such an amazing man that he is known as the patron saint of Ireland even though he wasn’t even Irish. Patrick was the son of a Roman nobleman and deacon in Roman-controlled Britain in the late 4th century. Though he was the son of a church leader, as a boy he showed little interest in the things of God. However, at the age of 16, Irish raiders plundered his village killing and kidnapping many of the people. Patrick was taken from his home, beaten and sold as a slave in Ireland and forced to tend sheep and pigs. During this time, Patrick drew near to the Lord praying to Him throughout the day. After six years, God gave him a vision and told him that he would be “going home soon and that his ship was ready.” By faith he escaped and walked 200 miles to the Irish coast where remarkably he found the ship that God had told him about.
Patrick eventually made his way back home. He spent a number of years in Britain studying Christianity and receiving bible training until the Lord gave him another vision. This vision was of the people of Ireland imploring him to come back to their country. In obedience to God and to the dismay of many of his family and friends, Patrick left home and returned to Ireland, not as a slave but as a missionary. In the years that ensued, despite resistance and opposition, God gave favor to Patrick as he preached to Irish kings, shared the gospel, and baptized many people. He became a defender and spiritual shepherd of the Irish people, and spread Christianity across Ireland. He is credited with establishing monasteries, churches, and schools, helping bring literacy to the country. He initiated the remarkable Celtic missionary movement which continued on through his converts taking the gospel to Scotland, England, and eventually Germany and Scandinavia.
St. Patrick was an amazing man! He loved and forgave the people that abducted him and enslaved him. He chose to obey God no matter what the consequences were. If we could only have such integrity! Doesn’t his story sound biblical? It reminds me of Joseph in the Old Testament who was sold into slavery by his brothers and then shipped off to Egypt. Despite the hardships (or maybe because of the hardships), he kept his faith in the Lord. But when I think of amazing people like Joseph and St. Patrick, even greater is the One True God that they serve. Beloved, our Lord is sovereignly at work in ways we often don’t understand. In missionary circles, St. Patrick and Joseph are examples of the “involuntary-go” mechanism where God disperses people to other places using circumstances beyond their control (i.e., war, migration, persecution) in order to spread His gospel and bring people to faith in Him. At the conclusion of Joseph’s saga, he says to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
So when you think of St. Patrick’s Day this year, don’t just think about wearing green or corned beef and cabbage. Remember this amazing man of God, what he stood for, and the Sovereign Lord who was at work in his life, and is at work in each of us to spread the gospel and share Christ with others. Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!