I posted this blog last year, but it bears repeating, especially since my sister found out how much of our family descends from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. If you read it then, you probably have forgotten the details anyway.
Growing up Protestant, we did not know much about St. Patrick. All we knew was that in elementary school you were supposed to wear some green on St. Patty’s Day or you would get pinched. But there is so much more to the story, even if some of it is kind of lost in time.
The dates are kind of uncertain, but he apparently lived through the early 400’s, growing up in Roman occupied Britain, although the exact location of his boyhood home is sometimes given as Cumbria, England, sometimes Wales and sometimes Scotland. His family was Christian, but Patrick did not have a personal faith in Christ in his early years. As a teenager, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle where he lived as a slave for years. During that time he came to believe in Christ for himself. After six years, he escaped and returned home to Britain.
He then studied for the priesthood. After ordination, he returned to Ireland and lived out his life bringing the Gospel to the mostly pagan island. Again, details are sketchy, but he walked from one end of the island to the other starting churches and doing acts of Christian charity. It was said that when he arrived in Ireland the land was mostly pagan. When he died it was mostly Christian. That is quite a legacy.
As non-Catholics, many of us are only recently beginning to appreciate the work of this early saint. And since, at the time, there was only the Roman Catholic church in western Europe, he is part of our history as well. There may not be any St. Patrick’s United Methodist churches (or Presbyterian, Baptist or Lutheran), but we can certainly learn much from this man who lived his life to spread the faith.
One of the things I really respect about Patrick is that he returned to the place of his original enslavement to share Christ. That took extraordinary courage and love. After leaving that part of his life behind, he came back to face the people who captured him and made him a slave. Only the love of Christ would enable him to do that. And he toiled for the rest of his life to bring the freedom of Christ to those who had once taken his freedom. He brought a message of real freedom to those who were enslaved to their pagan beliefs.
He used the shamrock plant to illustrate the Trinity to the children and it became so identified with him that you cannot separate the man from the herb.
He probably did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. There is no evidence snakes ever lived on the Irish island. But he did drive out the serpent of unbelief and replace it with a vibrant Christian church.
So enjoy the parties, parades, and for those who partake, green beer. But realize that the man behind the celebration was so much more. And he is a part of all of our western Christian history. Especially those of us who had an Irish grandfather and a Scottish grandmother. Let us reclaim our history with the same kind of dedication that our spiritual ancestor showed.