No parades, No Music and No Craic! Today, March 17th will be different. However, we can still celebrate Irelands patron saint – Patrick, and perhaps even learn something from him.
Patrick may have been a visitor to these shores, but he has become Irelands most treasured and remembered figure in history. Many myths and legends surround the man, ridding the country of snakes, walking through walls and turning butter to honey! But yet Patrick tells his own true story in his ‘Confessions’ which speaks of a person just like us who can experience the forgiveness of all their sins and find new and eternal life in Christ.
Patrick was born around 390 in Britannia (Britain), the most westerly reaches of the Roman Empire. However, the might of the world’s great empire was under threat and with heavy losses inflicted by Germanic forces, her end was in sight. Such turbulent times sent shock waves through the empire, so much so Patrick interpreted it as ‘living in the last days of history.’
Patrick grew up in very privileged circumstances his: ‘father was Calpornius, a deacon, a son of Potitus, a presbyter of the village Bannaventa; he had a country seat nearby.’ People with such religious and social standing were wealthy and respected and would have provided their children with a good education. But Patricks status was to soon change under terrible circumstances.
Slave to Ireland
Pirates often came from the Island of Ireland to Britain on raiding parties taking what they quickly could before sailing back across the Irish sea. On one such skirmish Patrick was captured, he writes: ‘I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people…’ To be taken as a slave at such a young age was undoubtedly traumatic.
Where Patrick was taken to in Ireland is disputed, however many suggest it was the North West, what is now County Mayo. His job, the cold and miserable task of looking after sheep! As Traumatic an experience as it must have been for a teenager God was at work in Patricks life. While living out in the open Patrick would pray to God and one night experienced a conversion to God: ‘And there in Ireland the Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart that I might remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who…guarded me and comforted me as would a father his son.’
Patrick’s experience reflects what God does in the hearts of anyone who turns to him in faith, as the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Galatia:
‘So in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith…Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba’ Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has also made you an heir.’ (Galatians 3v26, 4v6-7).
These were fruitful years for Patrick and his relationship with God grew: ‘the love of God and his fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.’
After six years of captivity about the age of twenty-two Patrick escaped back to England.
Missionary to Ireland
Although back in his Home Land, there was a stirring in his heart to return to Ireland, he had a vision: ‘And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I did read the opening words of the letter, which were: “The voice of the Irish…We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.”’
This calling was confirmed as he read the scriptures, in particular the plan of God: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28v19-20).
In preparation Patrick studied God’s word and returned to Ireland c.430. However, it was certainly not the land of ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’! Opposition and persecution awaited him, in a land where brutal human sacrifice was commonplace. Nevertheless, Patrick persevered convinced of God’s enabling power:
‘I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers…and many persecutions. I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the lord would grant it to me.’
Despite the struggles and by God’s grace Patrick saw ‘thousands converted…including sons and daughters of Irish Kings.’
We may remember Patrick but more than that we can celebrate what God did in his life. God continues to oversee world changing events and our personal lives and will ensure that the good news of the gospel will see many like Patrick turn to Christ.
Sources used: 'Patrick of Ireland - His life and impact' by Michael Haykin
An excellent and accessible account of Patrick, well worth the read!