People dress up in green, hang leprechaun posters around schools, drink green beer, we even turn an entire river green for one day each year. St. Patrick’s Day. It’s all about fun, about being Irish and maybe enjoying some corn beef ‘n cabbage. Or is it? Just who was St. Patrick and what did he do with his life?
No, he wasn’t an Irish guy who chased snakes out of Ireland.
In fact, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. And he sure as heck didn’t drink Guinness.
Patrick was actually an Englishman born to an Italian Christian family, his father a deacon and his grandfather a priest. Even so, Patrick never considered himself religious. At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped, thrown into a ship headed for Ireland from where he was sold as a slave to a Druid priest.
The Ireland of 400AD was nothing like today’s peaceful, prosperous land. Controlled by warlords and Druids, human sacrifice was commonplace in what was then a pretty barbaric country. Ireland was at a dark point in its history.
Scared and alone, Patrick would spend the next 6 years of his life as a shepherd slave in this fearsome environment. It was then that the God of his parents and grandparents became very real to him, and Patrick said he would pray a hundred times during the day and a hundred times at night.
At the age of 22, Patrick escaped his captors and made his way back to England and his family. There, he was ordained as a priest, then a Bishop. In 432 AD, Patrick made the decision to return to Ireland as a missionary.
Patrick spent the remaining 29 years of his life ministering to the people that had once enslaved him. He journeyed from house to house, village to village, teaching folks about the Bible and Christian principles as he went. Through Patrick’s ministry, schools, churches, and monasteries were established throughout Ireland, and the Druids grip on the nation’s people was weakened. Patrick is especially remembered for baptizing over 120,000 Irishmen and using the clover to explain the Trinity (Christian doctrine of One God manifest in Three persons).
In perhaps Patrick’s most legendary encounter with the Druids, he lit a bonfire atop Slane Hill… on a night when no one was to create any light whatsoever, except a lone fire on Tara Hill, as part of the Druids pagan worship system. As Rev. Sean Brady explains,
“He was summoned before the king, and he explained that he wasn’t a threat, because he was bringing the new light, the light of Christ, the Savior of the world, the Light of the world.”
Some people talk about loving their enemies. Patrick gave up all he held dear to minister to a people who robbed him of 6 years of his life. Dang.
So this March 17th, while you’re dressing in green and hoping to snag yourself a little luck of the Irish, take some time to remember the real St. Patrick, a man credited with single-handedly turning an entire nation from Celtic paganism to Christianity.
That’s way cooler than a drunken frat-boy in a green mardi gras necklace.