St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated each year in honor of a man that many know very little about. Here’s a brief biographical sketch of the man behind the holiday.
Contrary to popular belief, and unfortunately irrelevant to many who use St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to pontificate about their supposed Irish heritage and an excuse to inebriate themselves upon kelly-greened beverages, St. Patrick was not natively Irish and there is very little reason to believe he was ever drunk or enjoyed pinching his friends.
Patrick was born in Britain to a nominally Christian home. He was reared as the kind of person who probably would have went to church from time to time, but his relationship with the Lord was not something of pressing concern to him as a youth.
Irish slave-trading pirates invaded Patrick’s homeland when he was around the age of sixteen. Being a healthy young man, the raiders figured Patrick would make for a good, hardworking slave. He was trafficked away from his friends and family and hauled off to Ireland. Once there he would be sold as a slave to a powerful war chief.
Patrick served his Irish master as a pig herder. It was only then, when all of his earthly comforts had been taken away—his home, his family, his friends, his freedom, his dignity—that Patrick began to call out on the God of his youth. In his suffering he found solace in the solitude of prayer. It is said that Patrick’s prayer life grew and matured until he was praying nearly 100 times a day and 100 times each night.
One day, after six years of involuntary servitude, Patrick heard the voice of the Lord telling him to escape bondage and return to his homeland. So he fled. He walked 200 miles to the coast and convinced a trader ship to allow him safe passage back to Britain.
Once home Patrick joyfully reunited with his family. He was now a devout Christian man. One night he had a dream in which an Irishman came to him bearing many letters from the Irish people. The unconverted Irish were pleading with Patrick to return to Ireland and share the gospel with them. Patrick sensed from this dream that God was calling him to take the gospel to the poor souls of Ireland. At the time Ireland was an incredibly pagan country. Its main religion involved various manifestations of Druidism.
Following God’s call upon his life, Patrick prepared for and was eventually ordained into the Christian ministry. In time he would become a bishop and was sent on mission to Ireland.
Patrick’s Christian message was not easily received among the pagans of Ireland. It is said that he had many confrontations with Druid priests and was in constant fear of danger for his life. He wrote, “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven” (from Mark Galli’s, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, p. 230).
One thing Patrick is not well-known for but should be is his strong stand against slavery. He is one of the first Christians in recorded history to take a clear and bold stand against this dreadful, inhumane practice. He had been a slave himself. He knew the horrors of the practice!
Patrick died in 493 AD. By that time it is believed that he had been used by God to start over 300 churches and baptize more than 120,000 people. His victorious, yet humble life can be seen in these numbers and in the fact that to his dying day he did not feel he deserved the title of “bishop.” He preferred to be known simply as a sinner in the gracious hands of God.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE LIFE OF ST. PATRICK?
- Love those who mistreat you
Patrick had every reason in the world to hate the Irish. They had kidnapped him and forced him into slavery. Yet he still loved them enough to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no one who has wronged us enough to justify our not sharing the gospel with them by our words and our actions.
- Listen to the voice of the Lord
He was not only sensitive to God’s leadership in his life, but he was also obedient to it. He left Ireland when God told him to. He went back to Ireland when God told him to do that. That’s a pretty good track record. We’d do well to follow Patrick’s example of sensitivity, trust, and obedience.
- Let go of earthly comforts for the sake of the gospel
Even though he had been reunited with his family afters years of agonizing separation in slavery, he was still willing to lay all those things aside when God called him to go back to Ireland. What might God be asking you to give up for the sake of his kingdom?