Like many of you, our earliest memories of St. Patrick’s Day are from elementary school. We hunted for four-leaf clovers in the grass during recess, pinched each other for not wearing green and enjoyed a variety of “green food” (thanks to the miracle of food coloring). Yet, none of this had anything to do with the man behind this spring holiday. In fact, many of us still have no idea who St. Patrick was, except that his holiday leads to big sales and large displays of corned beef at the grocery store.
The Story of St. Patrick
At 16, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and taken back to Ireland as a slave. He remained there for six years before he heard a voice say, “Behold, thy ship is ready.” He found that ship 200 miles away and fled Ireland, thinking he’d never return.
Like his father, Patrick got involved in his church, ultimately ordained as a priest. In 432 A.D., at the age of 48, Patrick responded to a vision, which led him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Though no outside religion had penetrated Ireland for a thousand years, Patrick experienced incredible success through unconventional methods. Reports vary, but it seems Patrick planted several hundred churches and baptized thousands, possibly tens of thousands. His influence continued after his death, with the end of the slave trade and a decrease in violent crimes.
To this day, Patrick is credited as evangelizing Ireland and according to Cahill, saving Western civilization.
What St. Patrick's Day means for us TODAY
In a world where we tend to demonize those who disagree with us and struggle to connect with those who live and believe differently, we find several attitudes in Patrick that can guide our lives in public and private as followers of Jesus: Love God and love your enemies.
In his autobiography, Confessio, Patrick described how his faith grew during captivity as a young adult. “More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day and in the night nearly as often.” This wasn’t simply a private love for God; it produced a public love for his enemies. Patrick came to love his captors, to identify with them and to hope for their reconciliation to God.
Patrick embodied Jesus’ command in Matthew 5 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” While it’s easy to gravitate to our tribes online and shout down those who disagree with us, Patrick shows us the impact we can make when we love those who are against us.
However you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, may we remember the example that St. Patrick set before us...love never fails.