When I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I think about things like: wearing green, corned beef, green beer, and Leprechauns. But St. Patrick, the man, was so much more than those traditions. Maybe talking about this amazing saint should be one of the things we do on March 17th.
St. Patrick was born Maewynn Succat in Northern Britain in 385 AD. Yep. St. Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland. Since everyone in my family except me is Irish, I like that ol’ St. Pat wasn’t Irish either. At age 16, he was kidnapped by marauders and taken to Ireland to be enslaved by an Irish chieftain. It was in Ireland, which was mostly Pagan at the time, that St. Patrick heard the voice of God and began to follow him. After 6 years of being a slave, St. Patrick escaped, traveled 200 miles on foot, found a boat, and persuaded the captain take him onboard. So far, it’s a pretty good story right? Well, here are some things we can learn from St. Patrick.
1. He was patient.
Once he was finally home in Britain, he felt called into the ministry. So, he joined the the priesthood where he studied for 16 years to be ordained. I don’t know about you, but if my calling required 16 years of studying the Bible in Latin, I might assume I heard it wrong. Imagine the patience it took to do that especially considering he lost 6 years of his life being enslaved.
2. He was open
Do you ever wonder what amazing things God could do through us if we were open to his call? St. Patrick had a vision from God where he heard God telling him to be a missionary…in Ireland. "Wait, God. You mean you want me to go back the the place that made me a slave? Where I had to escape? And walk 200 miles to get away?" But St. Patrick was so open to God’s plan, he went. In fact, this is when he changed his name from Maywynn to Pātricius (Patrick).
3. He was strategic
Patrick was only one man. But somehow he converted an entire nation to Christianity without help of any modern mass communication. Even the printing press was still 1100 years in the future. As the first Bishop of Ireland, Patrick shared the good news, baptized thousands, and then ordained priests to oversee each of the parishes he mapped out across the country. He also set up monastic orders for men and women who wanted to be priests and nuns. In other words, he was sent, but then he equipped and sent others.
4. He was Bold
It takes a certain boldness to do what Patrick did -to allow his life to be used to serve and love his enemies. You know, there’s a legend that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. It’s probably not true because the climate in Ireland is too cold for snakes, but some believe it symbolic of driving out Paganism, specifically the Druids who often wore amulets and tattoos of snake-like figures.
5. He was Relevant
Patrick wanted to help theIrish people understand and fall in love with Christ. Legend has it the the Saxons built huge bonfires to chase the darkness of winter away. Patrick encouraged the people to light their fires the night before Easter and called them “High King” fires which would remind people of the Eternal High Kingship of Christ.
It is also popularly believed that St. Patrick introduced the Celtic Cross to the Irish People by taking the symbol of the sun (celebrated by the Celts) and extending one of the lengths to combine the Christian Cross and the sun.
Another legend is that Patrick picked a clover and used the three leaves to help the people understand the trinity -Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That’s why we decorate with shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day.
On March 17, 461 AD, St. Patrick died. At this time, there was no formal process for the canonization of a Saint, so he was never canonized by the Pope, but he is listed among the saints. He’s buried at the Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Ireland.
I don’t know what (if any) traditions you have for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe between drinking green beer and Irish step dancing we can stop and think about St. Patrick the man who was patient, open, strategic, bold, and relevant. I’m not Irish, but I am on March 17th and I’ll wear my green in honor of an unforgettable saint.