During the 5th century, a Christian missionary by the name of Patrick began evangelizing to the pagan nation of Ireland. But did you know that the man known as the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick, was not Irish? In his autobiography, Confessions, he states that he was born in Britain—son of a church deacon, and grandson of a priest.
According to historic records, he was never canonized as a saint by the Vatican.
“Evidently Patrick was biblical and evangelical in his preaching and his ministry, and the churches he founded were independent of Rome. So it may be concluded that he was neither Irish nor Roman Catholic.” (Vos, H. F., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1996). Exploring church history)
At age 16 he did not know the “True God”, and he was disobedient to God’s precepts as well as to the leaders of the church. Patrick was abducted by Irish marauders and taken as a slave for 6 years, working as a herdsman in Ireland. Living outdoors in the heat and cold, he believed that his captivity was a wake-up call as a result of his disobedience, and that God had a plan and a purpose through it all. Under these dreary conditions, his Christian faith grew as he prayed to God for spiritual restoration and help.
He escaped his captors by responding to a dream, which told him that a ship was waiting 200 miles away and it was time to return home. The trip by sea was short, but the voyage on land was not direct and came with complications including starvation, capture, and challenges to his faith. Upon finally returning to his home in Britain several years later, he was joyfully reunited with his family.
A few years after his reunion, he received another vision: to evangelize to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Because of his ignorance and lack of ability, he did not heed the call to ministry immediately. Instead, he remained in England for 15 more years to train in his Christian studies. Even when he finally departed for Ireland, he was still uncertain that he was prepared.
After 20 years, he returned to Ireland (around the year 435), where he preached the gospel with zeal in their native Celtic language for over 30 years. His six years of captivity had allowed him to not only learn the language, but also understand the Irish, pagan Druid beliefs. His unique knowledge allowed him to build a bridge to the Christian faith, breaking the power of paganism over the people.
Reading his writings, I was amazed at how evangelistic and charismatic, his words sound. He quoted numerous passages of the Bible: Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels. Here is an excerpt:
“Just as the Lord says in the Gospel, admonishing and instructing: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of time.’” – Saint Patrick, Confessions
So how, in America, did March 17, the celebration of the date of Saint Patrick’s death, become a celebration of green beer and drunken revelry? My wife was privileged to travel to Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day when she worked as a flight attendant. The passengers on the plane were all decked out in green and ready to hit the bars. But when they got to town, everyone was in church and there was absolutely nothing open, including the pubs. They could not even buy a cracker.
On Saint Patrick’s Day we should soberly celebrate the life of a Christian Missionary who, despite all odds and personal doubt, answered God’s call, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, preached the saving grace through Christ’s death on the cross, throughout Ireland.
Pastor Jay Merritt