March is the month that everyone becomes “Irish” for a day. Because it is in March that we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. The scope of the celebrations vary from community to community, but the consistent focus is on wearing green outerwear (or accessories) and assorted pagan revelry. Little attention is given to the man himself as people celebrate the anniversary of Patrick’s death on March 17th. I’d like to correct this omission, so I offer the following historical information.
There are several things we know for sure along with a number of legends that have been added to the story of Saint Patrick (or “Patricius” as he would have been known to his peers). He was (most likely) born in England and in his youth was carried captive into Ireland where he was a slave for six years. During that period of slavery, he turned to God and put his faith in Jesus for salvation. He escaped from his bondage and returned to England where a few years later, God called him to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel to the Irish people.
In the writings of Patrick that have been authenticated as genuine, he said this of his capture, “I was then about sixteen years old; but I was ignorant of the true God, and was led away into captivity to Hibernia (Ireland)." Then, in talking about his conversion he states, "After I arrived in Ireland every day I fed cattle, and frequently during the day I prayed; more and more the love and fear of God burned, and my faith and my spirit were strengthened, so that in one day I said as many as a hundred prayers, and nearly as many in the night."
Then in describing his work of evangelism in Ireland he explains, "I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me. The Irish, who never had the knowledge of God and worshipped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called sons of God."
For his authority to do his ministry he appealed to the Scriptures (not to Rome or the Pope or “tradition”). His ministry took place during the Fifth Century (c. a.d. 440 to a.d. 493) and he is aptly called “The Apostle of Ireland.” So, as you encounter the various celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day this month remember that the truly important contribution of this faithful follower of Jesus was his evangelistic outreach to the people of the Emerald Isle.
In Christ our living hope,