This year, on March 17th, millions across the globe will tap into their inner Irish for St. Patrick’s Day. Glow in the dark shamrock necklaces will be adorned. Cheap plastic emerald green bowler hats will be donned. Rivers will be dyed green. And as these annual revelers slog from pub to pub throughout the course of the day, very few will realize that the day pays homage to a man who risked life and limb to spread God’s word to the same people that kidnapped and enslaved him for six long years.
Most people think of Saint Patrick’s Day as an Irish cultural celebration. The majority would be shocked to learn that St. Patrick was not Irish, he was British. A few might even believe that they are celebrating Pat’s victory over, and subsequent expulsion of, the indigenous population of elongated legless reptiles. Spoiler alert: all evidence indicates that the Emerald Isle has never had a snake population and certainly not one so problematic that it required divine intervention.
So who was this mysterious man of God that single-handedly doubles Guinness sales every March? He was an ordinary man God put through extraordinary hardships in order to make him useful in the furtherance of God’s kingdom.
The story of Patrick
Patrick was born in Britannia, Roman Britain, some time in the fifth century. He came from a Christian family but at the age of 16 did not consider himself a strong follower of the faith. Yet God had a plan for Patricio. At 16 he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. Bad luck for Pat.
He would be forced into slavery for six long years. Through this trial, God spoke to his heart. Patrick would later write in Confessions that his enslavement would be critical to his spiritual development. He labored as a shepherd and used this time to pray and commune with God. He would later say that the Lord used this ordeal to cure him of his youthful pride and ignorance. God took him away to bring him home.
After six years as a captive, the Lord spoke to St. Patrick. He told him he was going home and that a ship was waiting for him. The Holy Spirit guided him in his escape. He fled to the coast where he found a waiting ship that gave him safe passage back to Britain. The Lord provided in the storm.
From follower to missionary
If that was the end of the story, it would already be a pretty good one. But God was not finished with ol’ Pat. Because God has a big plan, and because his plan is for ALL people, young “lucky to be alive and not be a slave” Patrick was on his way to being Saint Patrick: Missionary to Ireland.
When Patrick went home he dedicated himself to the study of God’s word. And more than that, he decided to go back to the land of his enslavement to make the name of Christ known. Ireland was not a land of pubs and weekend castle tours. It was a dangerous and violent place where many Celtic lords still paid homage to pagan gods and held Christianity in contempt.
Saint Patrick was not just a missionary. He was a missionary to a dangerous land. And these were the same people that had wrongfully enslaved him! Patrick was a man that chose to follow Christ’s command to love his enemies. He was a man that looked across the ocean, at a group of people that despised him, and chose to let his heart grieve for their souls. Patrick was a man that answered when God called.
Today Ireland has a rich history of Catholicism and Christianity. And amongst the green pints and the “kiss me I’m Irish” t-shirts every March 17th, it is easy to lose sight of how that came about. It happened because it was God’s plan. It happened because one man turned his cheek and said, “Here I am Lord, send me.”