“Twas but leprechauns, shamrocks, and the wearing of the green that I knew for most St. Patrick holidays. Not much stirred my heart there until I read about his life. What an extraordinary soul! Here’s a bit of the story to enrich your holiday if you are unfamiliar with a man who brought good news to the Irish in about the fifth century.
Patrick was raised in a family of British Roman Christians. His grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon in the church. By his own admission Patrick said that he did not really believe in God. A nominal Christian, he mocked the priests and spent his time with other wild youth.
That all changed in his teen years. His wealthy, spoiled existence was snatched away. Irish pirates invaded the area and took many captives, including Patrick, back to Ireland and sold them as slaves. The rich and godless young man was forced by his owner, Miliucc to shepherd cattle or sheep, depending on which account you read. He was often hungry, cold, and alone in the hills with his flock.
Yet good came out of these six years of slavery. There out in nature, watching the changing of the seasons, the wind, stars, and animals, a sense of God’s reality came to him. He began to pray simple prayers of thanks and praise a hundred times in a day and as many again in the night hours. His spirit became strong and white hot with love for God and even his captors just by so simple of a life. They saw a change in him. He became immersed in their culture, respecting their ways and language that would equip him well for the years of mission work in Ireland he would eventually undertake.
In a dream one night a mysterious voice spoke to him. “You’re going home. Look! Your ship is ready!” On the strength of those words he left slavery behind. Before daybreak he slipped away, traveling 200 miles to get to the coast through uncharted territory, miraculously escaping recognition as a runaway slave. He found what he perceived to be his ship, but at first the ship captain refused him passage. Patrick backed off the ship. The chances of being captured again were high, but he prayed—a good thing to do when you’re in trouble. And he didn’t lose heart.
God changed the captain’s heart suddenly so Patrick was welcomed on board. They sailed and later landed in a land devastated by war. They journeyed on through the land, finding no humans nor food until the men were collapsing from hunger. The captain’s tone was scornful. “So you’re a Christian and you say your god is all powerful. Can’t you pray for us?” Patrick answered, “Turn in trust to Him with all your heart. Nothing is too hard for him. This day he will give you an abundance of food.” Their hard hearts were touched and they prayed with Patrick.
The sound of stampeding animals made them look up—a herd of pigs on the road! They feasted that day and for many days.
After a long journey of some years he found his way to his family again who rejoiced and begged him never to leave again. But Patrick had a vision one night of the Irish calling him to come and walk among them again. He said he was stabbed in the heart by their cries and finally determined that he must return and bring them the good news of Jesus Christ.
Wonderful stories woven of truth and legend were made from the years in Ireland that became home to Patrick in every way. He baptized thousands. He and other priests, even some women with his entourage, engaged kings and the people in conversations, prayed for the sick and demon-oppressed, counseled and mediated conflicts. He fearlessly confronted a cruel king Coroticus, wanting to pay ransom for people the king had enslaved. He in particular championed women whom he said followed the Lord “with backbone” despite the sufferings experienced due to slavery. Unlike the Romans who looked down on the Celts as hardly human, much less Christian, Patrick loved them and saw their hearts as receptive to Christ whether slave trader, druid, or fisherman.
Ugly rumors spread about him having been a filthy little swineherder, his education was criticized and frequently called into question, and there were claims that he charged money to conduct baptisms. Legends spread also—that he rid the land of snakes by a sharp beating of a drum and that he used a shamrock to teach the concept of the Trinity.
We will share his story over cupcakes and green icing at my granddaughter’s little party with friends. And again in the evening with family gathered around the table. Perhaps with a candle and some Celtic music.
So there’s more to this holiday than wearing green though I’m a big fan of green. There’s this real person Patrick who in his times once loved God and people with a bright ferocity. May we in our own day and time shine too.