St. Patrick’s Day is the one day in the year where everyone becomes Irish for a day. We wear silly green outfits with shamrocks, we wear silly hats, drink green beer…eat corned beef and cabbage. We go to parades and celebrate with our friends…even to the point of adopting a temporary, Irish accent.
But in the midst of all the fun (and there’s nothing wrong with it) we oftentimes remain ignorant of the great man behind the holiday; missing the lessons that God intends for us to learn through his life and writings. If there is one word that could describe St. Patrick’s devotion for God, it would be: Intense. His devotional intensity and courageous missionary work flowed from his ineffable love for God. St. Patrick, although had been raised by Christian parents, he himself was an unbeliever until God put him through (what he calls) divine chastisement.
Patrick was born in Scotland in the year 387 A.D. to his parents Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. His father Calpurnius was an ordained deacon while his grandfather was a priest. Most likely, St. Patrick’s full name was: Patricius Magonus Sucatus.
When he was about 14 years old, Patrick was abducted by a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave. He served as a slave of a harsh, Druid priest for 6 years, taking care of his flocks. In his “Confessions,” Patrick owes his conversion to the severe, divine chastisement that he suffered under God’s providential hand. During the years of his captivity, he turned to God with a spiritual devotion that dwarfs most Western Christians of today. In his autobiography (Confessions) he describes his devotion to God in the following way:
“But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
During one of those times in which he had been praying, a voice spoke to him while half-asleep, telling him that he would return to his home. Then another voice said to him that the ship for his transportation was ready. So in obedience to the visions, St. Patrick traveled 200 miles in order to reach the port. Once he embarked, he arrived in Britain in just 3 days.
After a few years in Britain with his parents, he received a vision in which he saw and heard the Irish souls that lived near the woods where he had served as a slave. “We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.” It was at this time that he became convinced that God was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary.
While Patrick was studying to become a priest, his family turned against him, reminding him of a past sin that he had committed as a teenager, and confessed. This experience launched him into a deep depression, that again, he considered to be God’s discipline in order to produce something good in him. In another vision, the Mystic-Prophet saw a document unrolled before his face while hearing the words that were written on them saying:
“We have seen with displeasure the face of the chosen one divested of [his good] name. He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye.”
After St. Patrick was ordained a priest, he became involved in the defense of orthodoxy against the heresies of Pelagianism and Nestorianism. During the days of Pope Celestine I, Patrick was recommended by St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre to pick up the failed commission of Palladius to win the Irish for Christ. Palladius failed in his missionary commission because he had been intimidated by the Druid chieftains of Ireland. But Patrick was not the type of man that was easily intimidated…as a matter of fact, in addition to his great piety, Patrick was known to be a man of great courage.
After Patrick was ordained as a Bishop, he departed from Britain to Ireland with just a few missionary-monks. Patrick proved to be fearless… In addition to his zealous sermons against the Druid gods, he was known to fearlessly tear down the Druid altars and idols- as a demonstration that they had no power whatsoever.
St. Patrick’s preaching was a message that proclaimed the victory of Jesus Christ over all the powers of sin, death and demons. Patrick would oftentimes confront the Druid priests, dressed in full Bishop regalia, while fighting their incantations with his prayers. Many miracles accompanied the preaching of the bishop saint that convinced the Irish that Jesus Christ is Lord.
St. Patrick baptized thousands of souls and erected many churches. Many rich women converted to Christ, and even became nuns. Many sons of the Irish Kings also converted, and accompanied Patrick all over Ireland, preaching the Gospel.
Many people don’t know that much of his evangelistic success came at the price of being misunderstood and criticized by the very people that had recommended him to be sent to Ireland. Some were concerned that he was creating his own church…outside of the authority of the English curia. St. Patrick wrote his “Confession” as a defense against those who were accusing him of pride and self-seeking.
What can the Western Church learn from St. Patrick?
1. What God desires most is our LOVE– The young man sought after God during his trial as a slave- with all his heart- and God came to his aid. Patrick learned to place Christ first and foremost in his life. Imagine saying 200 prayers a day and rising early before sunrise to pray in the woods, regardless of the elements! During his trials, Patrick learned to love God with the intensity that God desires from us.
2. Listening to the Holy Spirit– Even though the young Patrick did not have the Bible during his years as a slave, his soul was open to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, whether through insight or dream.
3. Thanksgiving– Patrick learned to sincerely thank God, especially during the hard times. Patrick literally learned to thank God when under trial; submitting to God’s discipline, in the assurance that there was always a divine plan behind the test. He thanked God during his trials, knowing that their purpose was to make him into a better Christian.
4. Mission-minded- Patrick didn’t entertain personal sensibilities. Although his preaching was filled with the Love of God, Patrick would never hold back the truth. He spoke plainly, in the language of the masses, with zeal and passion for Christ. Patrick’s mission was to win the hearts of people for Christ.
5. Strategic– Patrick didn’t just “preach Christ,” he was also wise enough to seek within the Celtic religion points of parallel with Christianity and use them to his missionary advantage. For instance, the Druids of that time worshiped the sun. Patrick took the Celtic symbol of the sun and placed it behind the Cross- hence creating the Celtic Cross. The point of this was to emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ is the “Sun of Righteousness” that was prophesied in Malachi 4:2.
6. Courageous– The one thing that the Irish have always admired is courage. The Irish would still be worshiping idols today, if it were not for Patrick’s resolve to stand before Druid chieftains and endure all sorts of imprisonments and persecutions. Patrick was fierce in his missionary zeal… and since the Irish admire courage, the Druid priests were demoralized.
7. Bible knowledge– In his Confessions, Patrick refers to himself as a “countryfied man.” He did not consider himself to be a scholar or even a well trained man. BUT, his knowledge of Scripture was overwhelming. When one reads Patrick’s writings, one cannot but know that Patrick lived and breathed the Word of God.
The Western Church needs a few “Patricks” today. We need pious Christian men who courageously rise against all odds, immersed in Scripture and Prayer. We need men that know how to listen to the Holy Spirit and make it their ambition to win as many souls for Christ as humanly possible. We need men that are relentless in their zeal for the Gospel.
Perhaps you are one of them.