St. Patrick’s day will soon be upon us, replete with green-clad revelers and rivers of green beer. For some it will be a time to flaunt their Irish roots and for others it will simply be another excuse to party. However, there is a deeper significance to the holiday than merely kissing red-heads and drinking beer.
St. Patrick’s day commemorates a hugely courageous Christian missionary.
Born in Britain in the fourth century, Patrick was kidnapped at sixteen years old by Irish raiders and forced into the gloomy, ill-fed life of an Irish herdsman. After six years of servitude, he managed to escape and return to England where he promptly followed a calling into the priesthood. After his ordination in 417 A.D. he made the startling decision to return to Ireland to minister to the very people who had enslaved him. Claiming that God had told him to “set the captives free” in Ireland, he devoted his life to reaching the Irish villages and chieftains with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, ultimately seeing many thousands of people begin following Christ.
As with all historical figures, there is significant legend surrounding St. Patrick’s exploits, such as the stories of how he drove poisonous snakes out of Ireland and used the Shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, but those stories shouldn’t detract us from his true passion and ambition.
Honest studies of St. Patrick’s life reveal a man who knew how to live fully present, engaged in the world around him. He didn’t convert the island of Ireland by preaching sermons at its citizens but by building authentic, counter-cultural, Christocentric communities that transformed Ireland into one of the centers of European Christianity.
This week as you pinch the people who forgot to wear green, let’s pause to be inspired by the bold, selfless life and legacy of the real St. Patrick, AKA “the lion of Ireland.”