And, along with that, the mentioning of St. Patrick’s Day prompts memories of being pinched for not wearing green or befuddlement over the appeal of green beer. But, believe it or not, there’s a whole lot more to the man and his day than we realize. And it ought to prompt any discerning Christian to wonder and praise of the Lord of His-story.
The story of Patrick and his adopted land is a story of God’s providence – His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions. I say “adopted land” because Patrick was not Irish by birth. He was born around 390 A.D. in Roman Britain. As a teenager, he was taken captive by Irish raiders, brought back to Ireland, sold to an Irish king, and set to work as a shepherd. Patrick tells us in his writings he was raised in a Christian home but had not yet believed in God. The six years of hunger, cold, fear, and loneliness in the fields were hard. Yet light began to dawn in his heart. In the midst of this hardship, Patrick became convinced of the reality and presence of God and began to pray. One night, he dreamed God spoke to him, saying, “Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look…your ship is ready.” And with that, Patrick walked 200 miles to the coast, found a ship, and sailed back to Britain.
Yet he became restless for Ireland. He entered a monastery, later became a priest and then a bishop. And then, thirty years later, Patrick returned to the Emerald Isle as a missionary to the Irish, barbaric as they were at the time. Thomas Cahill notes in his How the Irish Saved Civilization, “Only this former slave had the right instincts to impart to the Irish a New Story, one that made sense of all their old stories and brought them a peace they had never known before.” Because of Patrick, a warrior people “lay down the swords of battle, flung away the knives of sacrifice, and cast away the chains of slavery.” He was used in the conversion of thousands. That’s already quite a story. But it doesn’t end there.