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Patrick was not Irish. Just so you know. Patrick was a Briton. He was born into a Christian Briton family, but was kidnapped by Irish slave-traders when he was 15-16 years old. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Miliucc, and he worked as a shepherd. Like David, Patrick used these times in the pasture for prayer and meditation. Eventually at the age of 21 Patrick ran away and found a ship that took him to the continent. Eventually he made it home to his mom and dad that had not seen him for six years. Soon after that, he left to become a priest.
After becoming a priest, Patrick felt called to return to Ireland and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with his former captors. Patrick used his knowledge of the Irish language and culture as a bridge to communicating the truths of the gospel. Patrick used the fires of the Irish Feast of Tara to describe how Jesus was the true light of the world. He used a shamrock to communicate the doctrine of the Trinity (that God exists in one substance, but three persons). And, Patrick used Christ’s death on a tree as a polemic against the sacred oak worship of the druids.
Legend says that St. Patrick cast out all the snakes of Ireland. I have no idea where this came from. From a cursory internet search, it seems that there never really were snakes in Ireland, and the idea that Patrick cast out snakes was a metaphor for Patrick casting out the paganism of the druids with the light of the gospel. Although he may not have been a snake exterminator, Patrick did some great things. Patrick was the most influential missionary to Ireland, and he planted many churches. He also brought the Latin language and scholarship to the new Christians in Ireland. The impact of this has been grossly exaggerated in Thomas Cahill‘s How the Irish Saved Civilization, but it was an important step nonetheless.
Things to Learn from St. Patrick
- Forgiveness — Patrick returned to the people that had enslaved him to tell them the gospel of Jesus Christ. He loved a people that had shown him nothing but enslavement and forced labor.
- Courage — Patrick’s life was threatened many times by the druids and other tribal leaders. Yet, he persisted in sharing the gospel with them.
- Contextualization — Patrick used the Irish cultural beliefs as a means of communicated the gospel, without compromising the gospel.
So, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Go wear some green and pretend to be Irish. I am of Scotch/Irish/Welsh descent, but today I celebrate my Irish heritage. So, blessings to you. Top of the morning to you and all that.
Until later friends…