Some figures in history are so important and yet so mysterious that they become almost mythological. Today is March 17th, otherwise known as St. Patrick’s Day. On this day, many people commemorate the almost mythological St. Patrick by wearing green, participating in parades in his honor, and drinking green beverages – but what does any of that have to do with St. Patrick of Ireland? St. Patrick’s Day has little to do with the historical St. Patrick. If his very own day has nothing to do with him, then who was the real St. Patrick?
Who Was St. Patrick of Ireland?
“Driving the snakes out of Ireland, entering contests to the death with pagan Druids, using the shamrock as an aid to explain the Trinity—all these are pious fictions created centuries later by well-meaning monks. The true story of Patrick is far more compelling that the medieval legends.”1 Patrick was born in Britain at the end of the fourth century. While not a Christian himself, he came from a Christian family, where his grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon in the church. As a teenager, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. Patrick would later escape and make his way back to his home in Britain. During his enslavement, Patrick came to faith in Christ and became a true Christian. After he escaped and returned home, something incredible happened – Patrick had visions from God urging him to return to Ireland and share Christ with the pagans. He would return, evangelize almost the entire island, and become Ireland’s most significant bishop and church leader.
Why Is St. Patrick Still Important?
While St. Patrick of Ireland probably did not drive out the snakes in Ireland or teach about the Trinity from a Shamrock, he did accomplish much in his lifetime. In fact, we as Christians today can learn from him. Here are just three lessons from the life of St. Patrick:
1. Listen to Jesus and Do What He Says
St. Patrick had some very specific visions in which God called him back to the very place where he was enslaved. Despite such a difficult task, Patrick chose to obey God and return back to Ireland. God has particular assignments for all of us, some of which are more difficult than others. Patrick was called back to a place he probably never wanted to go to again, yet he obeyed. When God calls you, will you listen and do what he says? Patrick did.
2. Love the Lost Regardless of Who They Are
God called Patrick back to people who had kidnapped and enslaved him. Before Patrick, almost everyone in Ireland had either not heard of Jesus or was not Christian. Many of the people Patrick reached with the gospel were pagan Druids. Personally and practically, the Irish would have been a difficult people for Patrick to love and reach. Nevertheless, he did so in the name of Jesus. Because of Patrick’s love for the people of Ireland and desire to reach them with the gospel, Ireland was changed forever. God has called you to reach people. Love them and share the gospel with them.
3. Treasure Christ Above All
One thing is certain from St. Patrick’s life: He treasured Christ. In an Old Irish prayer attributed to Patrick, he writes,
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ below me, Christ above me,
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye which sees me,
Christ in every ear which hears me.
St. Patrick of Ireland understood that Christ was all he needed and the only thing he could give others. Above all, he treasured Christ. Today, as we all participate in St. Patrick’s Day, may we honor and celebrate his life not by wearing green or participating in some empty tradition. Rather, may we celebrate the life of St. Patrick by treasuring Christ so much that Jesus is the only and best thing we give to others.
1Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), xvii.