We also made green cookies and green Kool-Aid and even decorated our front doors and dining rooms with leprechauns, four leaf clovers, and similar such trappings. And yet, our customs paled in comparison to those undertaken in places such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, where large numbers of Irish immigrants historically settled. St. Patrick’s Day is even a legal holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
In these places, parades and similar celebrations abound. Indeed, streets are filled with people decked out in green costumes, pubs are filled with green beverages inducing revelry, and fountains and entire rivers are filled with green die.
Of course, it is easy in the midst of all the celebrations to overlook the individual for whom the holiday was named. Technically, Saint Patrick's Day is the “Feast of Saint Patrick”. Held on March 17th of each year, it is a cultural and religious celebration the traditional death date of Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland. More commonly, it commemorates the missionary work of Saint Patrick, which resulted in the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.
What, if anything, do we know about Saint Patrick? John W. Cowart, in his book titled People Whose Faith Got Them into Trouble: Stories of Costly Discipleship, gives us a summary of Saint Patrick’s life…
We know about the real St. Patrick (or Magnus Sucatus Patricius) because he wrote a record of his life called Confessions. As a young boy Patrick lived a comfortable life near an English coastal city where his father was a deacon in their church. But at the age of 16, his comfortable life unraveled. Irish pirates attacked his village, abducting Patrick and many of the household servants. After arriving in Ireland, Patrick was sold as a slave to a Druid tribal chieftain who forced Patrick to work with a herd of pigs.
In the midst of the squalor of pig filth, God began to transform Patrick's heart. In his Confessions he wrote, "I was sixteen and knew not the true God, but in a strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and I was converted." Patrick became convinced that the kidnapping and homesickness were actually opportunities to know Christ better.
"Anything that happens to me," he wrote, "whether pleasant or distasteful, I ought to accept with [serenity] giving thanks to God … who never disappoints." Knowing that this serenity didn't come from his own strength, Patrick wrote, "Now I understand that it was the fervent Spirit praying within me."
After serving as a slave for six years, Patrick escaped, boarded a boat, and found his way back home. At long last, he was on British soil, warmly embraced by his family and his community. In his own mind Patrick was done with Ireland for good. According to Patrick, "It is not in my nature to show divine mercy toward the very ones who once enslaved me."
Once again, God would change Patrick's heart. Partially through a dramatic dream, Patrick knew that God had called him to return to Ireland—not as a slave, but as a herald of the gospel. His family and friends were understandably horrified by his decision. "Many friends tried to stop my mission," Patrick wrote. "They said, 'Why does this fellow waste himself among dangerous enemies who don't even know God?'"
Despite these objections, in A.D. 432 Patrick used his own money to purchase a boat and sail back to Ireland. Patrick spent the rest of his life preaching the gospel in Ireland, watching many people come to Christ. He also passionately defended the human rights of slaves. Besides his Confession, his only other remaining written work is the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, a scathing protest sent to King Coroticus and his soldiers after they raided a village, slaughtering the men and selling the women into slavery.
For the rest of his life, Patrick would remain captivated by the grace of God. In his Confessions he wrote: "And I am certain of this: I was a dumb stone lying squashed in the mud; the Mighty and Merciful God came, dug me out and set me on top of the wall. Therefore, I praise him and ought to render him something for his wonderful benefits to me both now and in eternity."
These days, I rarely purpose to "go green" on Saint Patrick’s Day. (I've learned that few, if any, people want to pinch an ornery old codger!) But the annual celebrations of March 17th do remind me that I am to "go" in another way. Following the example of Saint Patrick, as well as the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19-20), I am to…
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
May I, like a man named Sucatus Patricius of so long ago, be found faithful in this calling!
STORY SOURCE: John W. Cowart, People Whose Faith Got Them into Trouble: Stories of Costly Discipleship (InterVarsity Press, 1990), pp. 31-42. NOTE: And expanded edition of this book was released by John W. Cowart under the title of Strangers on Earth: A Collective Biography of People Whose Faith Got Them Into Trouble (Jacksonville, Florida: Bluefish Books, 2005).
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/28.htm.