Since St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us (17 March), I thought it might be helpful to give you some background on who he was. Although the year of his birth and death are not known, it is generally accepted that he lived during the 5th century. He was born in Roman Britain, but his village was raided by Irish pirates when he was about 16 and he was taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. He spent the next six years tending sheep, learning the Irish language and struggling with the culture that was very different from his Christian background in Britain. It would appear that he had some sort of spiritual awakening during this time, part of which was hearing a voice telling him that God wanted him to leave his master and go to a particular port where a ship would be waiting to take him back to Britain. This journey was in many respects a wilderness experience, but through it Patrick received a vision that God was calling him to become a Priest and that he would become the first missionary who would bring Christianity to Ireland.
As they say, the rest is history. After finishing his training he returned to Northern and Western Ireland, forming over 300 churches and baptising 100,000 Irish believers. There are many stories about St Patrick, accrediting him with miraculous powers such as the one about him casting out all the snakes in Ireland, but there is some doubt about most of them. What is known is that in later life he was ordained as a bishop and continued to form churches and also establish monasticism in Ireland. By the 7th Century he was already revered as the Patron Saint of Ireland. The 17th March is observed as St Patrick’s Day, because that was the day of his death.
So what? Instead of just wearing green and getting drunk on Irish beer or whisky, this St Patrick’s Day pause to consider the fact that God still speaks to people, brings them through difficult circumstances and gives them impossible jobs to do. Maybe God is calling you to move forward out of your comfort zone to achieve great things. Yes there are risks, as another 20th century missionary put it
“He is no fool to give that which he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot loose!”
Yes, it cost Jim Elliott his life, but like St Patrick his lasting legacy was the opening of a new country to the gospel of Christ.
Ian S Whitley AM