I live 25 miles from Boston, am Irish, and yet I never knew anything about St. Patrick growing up, other than assuming he was some Irish priest who made everyone feel obliged to wear green to school.
But Patrick wasn’t even Irish – he was English. When he was 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery to the “barbarians” in Ireland where he tended sheep for his master. The years of isolation while tending sheep he spent countless hours in prayer and meditating on what he had been taught as a child.
Patrick eventually escaped, through God’s providence, and made his way safely back to his home, where he enrolled in Seminary and later became an ordained Roman Catholic priest. After a number of years, God spoke to Patrick in a dream and told him to return to the barbarians of Ireland and to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to them and teach them to live for Christ.
Patrick sold all he had and went to Ireland as a missionary. He would travel with important chieftains orpay for safe passage to ensure his safety and protection. He spent time with the people in various tribes to learn about their particular culture (music, art, stories, etc.) in order to communicate important biblical truths in understandable ways – the most well known example of this is Patrick’s use of the shamrock as an example of the Trinity (three leafs, one shamrock; three Persons of the Trinity, one God).
He built simple churches, baptized and trained men who had converted from paganism to Christianity and appointed them as priests for their tribes. After a church was established and priests were appointed he would move to the next tribe and faithfully present the Good News of Jesus Christ there.
Patrick was a godly man who loved the gospel of Jesus Christ so much he went to his former-captors. His ministry played a history-shaping role in Ireland, and it was all because of his commitment to take Jesus’ promises and commands seriously. He loved his enemies, and he went to make disciples of all nations because he believed the Holy Spirit would be with him.
This is the life of the man whom we honor on St. Patrick’s Day every year. It is most ironic that he returned to Ireland to teach them to flee their ungodliness, and on the day we “honor” him we seem to return to exactly what he sought to rescue men from. If you want to honor St. Patrick this year, tell someone about Christ and invite them to repent of their sin and receive the forgiveness of sin.
Other articles about Saint Patrick: