As I’ve been researching St. Patrick’s day I have been understanding exactly why we should celebrate such a day. St. Patrick was a truly remarkable man, as men are when they allow their lives to be governed by the Holy Spirit.
St. Patrick was born in 387 and died on the 17th of March, 493. Now that’s a good innings! (Most historians accept these dates, although some claim he died in 460/61)
He was born in Scotland and was kidnapped when he was 16 and sold into slavery in Ireland.
According to his “Confessio”, (his autobiography), he believed that the reason he and thousands of others were captured, taken from their homes and families and sold into slavery, was God’s wrath. He believed he had brought his circumstances upon himself because he had not been walking with the Lord.
While serving as a slave, he learned the culture and the Celtic language that later he would speak to convert the Irish people to Christianity. Most importantly during this time, he discovered God while herding his master’s flocks and had such an amazing conversion experience that it affected the rest of his life.
In his own words:
Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.
For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name
Reading that gave me prickles down the back of my neck. This guy really knew God – and well!
Legend says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Spirit being three entities within one, just as the shamrock is three leaves within the one leaf. I’ve seen little evidence to prove this, but it certainly is a good illustration, and as you can see by the quote above, St. Pat certainly understood the trinity. With all the shamrocks around for St. Patrick day, I’ve used this to explain the trinity to J Boy. (He is still a bit young to fully comprehend it though.) If he did use the shamrock for this purpose, it would also make sense because the shamrock was considered sacred by the druids.
St. Patrick said that while herding the flocks he would pray.
But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.
I love how he says, “the Spirit was burning in me at that time.” What a passionate teenager he must have been. His passion was obviously fueled by such a close relationship with God.
After 6 years of slavery he heard God tell him in his sleep that he was going to return to his homeland. He escaped soon after and made his way until he got to a ship. He was refused passage on the ship, so walked away and started to pray. Before he had even finished praying, he was called back and granted passage. The ship’s journey was eventful with them running out of food. The crew challenged St. Patrick that if God was powerful, he would provide them food. St. Patrick’s response was:
‘Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.’ And with God’s help this came to pass; and behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights, and the were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside. And after this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day they had food abundantly. They discovered wi
ld honey, besides, and they offered a share to me, and one of them said: ‘It is a sacrifice.’ Thanks be to God, I tasted none of it.
He was also taken captive for a second time, but this time God told him it would be only for two months, and he escaped on the 60th day.
He made his way back to his father’s house. His family begged him not to leave, but God had greater plans in store for his life. St. Patrick received a vision that convinced him to return to Ireland.
And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and the were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many ears the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.
St. Patrick had a period of training to be a Catholic missionary in a monastery in France. Here he had trained under St. Germain and excelled in a variety of areas. A writer of St Germain’s life in wrote: “Since the glory of the father shines in the training of the children, of the many sons in Christ whom St Germain is believed to have had as disciples in religion, let it suffice to make mention here, very briefly, of one most famous, Patrick, the special Apostle of the Irish nation, as the record of his work proves. Subject to that most holy discipleship for 18 years, he drank in no little knowledge in Holy Scripture from the stream of so great a well-spring.
Upon his return to Ireland in 432, one of the first things St. Patrick wanted to do was to return to where he had been a slave and pay the price of ransom to his former master. Now, doesn’t that just tell you something about his integrity? Especially when his object was to exchange the cruelty and servitude for blessings and freedom. On his way he was a chieftain tried tried to prevent him from travelling further, but when he raised his sword, his arm became stiff as a statues until he proclaimed he would be obedient to St. Patrick. He then because he was so impressed by the miracles he saw and St. Patrick’s meekness, he donated a barn to him. This became the first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick. It later became a retreat for the St. Patrick, and a monastery and church was built on the site. When he continued on his journey, St. Patrick was horrified to find his former master, when hearing of St. Patrick’s miracles, was filled with fear and burned his possessions and himself.
His many years as a slave in Ireland were somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Those years had taught him the language, customs and rituals of the Irish Celtic people. This understanding of their culture enabled him to speak to their hearts and respect their spirituality.
Instead of just preaching religious dogma, ethics, and the pursuit of eternal life St. Patrick wisely incorporated mysteries, symbols, and rituals with which they were already familiar to explain Christian principles. He never asked them to stop believing in the supernatural beings they had worshipped for eons. Instead, he told them to regard these “gods” whom they had feared for so long as demons. Instead of fearing them, they could have the power through Christ to defeat them.
Naturally he met great resistance from the druids. They tried to arrest him, and even kill him. But they were not successful because it was ‘not his time’.
In his Conffessio, St. Patrick explains that he did not take gifts that were offered to him from wealthy women or accept money for baptising people as he wished to remain above reproach.
But in the hope of eternity, I safeguarded myself carefully in all things, so that they might not cheat me of my office of service on any pretext of dishonesty, and so that I should not in the smallest way provide any occasion for defamation or disparagement on the part of unbelievers
His efforts were not in vain. He was successful in bringing Christ to a nation that steeped in paganism.
So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of. the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.
There is a lot of myths and legends surrounding the life of St. Patrick. We do know a fair bit of his amazing life because there are two accounts written in his own hands.
St. Patrick’s autobiography, Confessio has been written by him towards the end of his life. The blue italicised quotes I’ve included have come straight from his Confessio. You can read it here.
There is also a letter written by St. Patrick to Coroticus pleading for the freedom of many of his followers who were being held as slaves. It is remarkable because it is a written testament to St Patrick’s opposition to slavery. St Patrick of Ireland loved the land and her people. He knew that freedom was an inalienable right of humankind. St Patrick of Ireland was the first Christian leader to publicly and passionately proclaim slavery to be opposed to God’s will.
St. Patrick was no doubt a remarkable man passionate and devoted to God. Accordingly, through the power of God, many miracles and amazing things were performed. While researching about him I have been inspired by his life story. It makes me want to develop my own prayer life and closeness and intimacy with God.
It’s a shame that in all the celebrations around the world on St. Patrick’s day more consideration isn’t given to the extraordinary life of this man. However, his legacy is great, and for those who chose to remember the man for who this day is to honour, indeed remember a man who made himself available to be used by God in such a mighty way.