Congratulations, America, we’ve done it again- taken a holiday with significant religious meaning and commercialized it to a point where we don’t recognize God in it at all. Just as Christmas has become about Santa and presents, and how Halloween covers over Reformation day, St. Patrick’s day has become a day to drink green beer and talk about Leprechauns, rather than remembering the man himself, St. Patrick.
Very few Americans know the true story of St. Patrick, yet we decorate our classrooms with clovers and leprechauns, pots of gold and Irish flags. We arrogantly use this day as an excuse to drink green beer, “like the Irish,” assuming that to be the only purpose of St. Patrick’s Day. But when you take even just a second to really think about the significance of this holiday, the idea of green beer and leprechauns seem completely irrational.
St. Patrick was kidnapped as a young boy and taken as a slave to the Druid Island of Ireland. Druids were pagan worshippers- and I don’t just mean that they bowed down to false idols… Druids were brutal and mystic, with traditions of human and animal sacrifice preformed to keep the spirits of the “otherworld” from seeking revenge on the living. Druids were ruthless, violent, and barbaric. Young Patrick was taken from his wealthy family in Scotland by Irish Pirates and sold as a slave to a druid farmer. During his 6 years in captivity, Patrick was nearly isolated, interacting only with the flock of sheep he shepherded on the side of Mt. Slemish in Northern Ireland. His isolation caused him to call out to the one person who might hear him – God. In his autobiography, St. Patrick’s Confession, he wrote that his time in captivity was crucial to his spiritual development – it was in this time that the lord showed him mercy and opened his eyes to his need for a savior. His time as a shepherd strengthened his relationship with God through prayer, eventually leading to his conversion to Christianity.
After 6 years of captivity, and crying out to the lord for help, The Lord answered his prayers. One night, Patrick had a dream that he was running to the sea, and a boat was waiting to set sail to Scotland. In the morning, when he woke up, Patrick knew exactly where he needed to go. He ran towards the Irish Sea, and saw a boat identical to the one he saw in his dream. He approached the captain, and offered himself as a free crew hand in exchange for transportation to Scotland. The captain turned him down. Confused, Patrick walked away, unsure of where to go next. Moments later, the Captain changed his mind and by the grace of God allowed Patrick onto the ship. Finally, Patrick would be reunited with his family.
Upon returning to Scotland, Patrick continued to study more and more about Christianity. He was grateful to be home, but it wasn’t long before the comfort of home would be ripped from him once more. Several years after returning to Scotland, Patrick had another dream. In this dream, he received a letter from the people of Ireland, begging Patrick, a holy servant, to come and walk among them. Patrick knew what he had to do.
In an act of selfless obedience to the lord, Patrick left the comfort of his home and family and returned to the place of Druid worshipers, where he had been held captive in isolation for six years and devoted himself to showing them the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Though he was not initially accepted, St. Patrick persevered and eventually, the word of the gospel was spread across the entire island of Ireland because of his obedience to the call of the Lord.
Today, Patrick is known as the Patron Saint of Ireland. In both the Catholic and Protestant churches of Ireland, St. Patrick is revered as the first Bishop of the church, and accredited as the man through whom God spread his word to the nation of Ireland.
All throughout Ireland, St. Patrick is remembered and honored regularly. Many national symbols relate back to Patrick’s influence on Celtic Culture. For instance, the Celtic Cross, displayed at nearly every traditional church in Ireland, was a tool that St. Patrick used to help the Druids understand that the cross brings life just as the sun brings life. As they had worshipped the sun before, the cross was an even greater facet for their affection. The shamrock, or a “three-leaf-clover” is the national flower of Ireland. St. Patrick took a small, and common field flower and made it significant by incorporating it into his teachings on the trinity – Just as the flower has three pedals that create one flower, so too God has three parts which create one holistic God; three in one.
St. Patrick’s day has much more significance than we Americans often let on to. It’s not just a day to wear green and drink beer; it’s a day to commemorate the life of St. Patrick – a day to celebrate spiritual renewal and to pray for missionaries worldwide.
The story of St. Patrick is an example to us of what the Lord is capable of doing in and through our lives if only we are obedient to follow the voice of the lord, and to follow where he leads us – despite our own fear or personal desire. Patrick returned to a place of torture, but through him, an entire nation came to know the lord. Imagine what the lord is capable of doing through you if only you listened to him.
The prayer of St. Patrick:
"I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and a-near,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation."
The site of the first Christian church in Ireland at Saul
Saul Church and the Celtic Cross- a reminder that the Cross outshines the sun and brings forth eternal life.
St. Patrick's Grave at Downpatrick Cathedral - March 17th is the date of his death.