Are you wearing green? Eating green food, drinking green beer? Stores are selling shamrocks, leprechauns adorn decorations, and we’re all hoping for a pot of gold. What is St. Patrick’s Day about, really? Just as Frosty and mistletoe have little to do with the true purpose of Christmas, and Easter holds far more significance than a bunny bringing baskets of jelly beans, St. Patrick’s Day has a rich heritage far beyond our cultural celebration.
Patrick was born in Scotland 385 AD. He was abducted at age 16 and taken to Ireland, where he lived in bondage as a shepherd. During that time, his Christian faith became real to him, sustaining him for six long year. God then rescued him and he returned home, where he became a priest—only to be called as a missionary back to the very country where he had been enslaved.
Obeying God, Patrick returned to the pagan country. There he endured hardships—both from those he was trying to convert, and from within the church—and was constantly in danger of his life. With prayer and persistence, he eventually led King Leoghaire to Christ. As a result, much of the population converted. By the time of his death, March 17, 461 (according to legend), he had established churches across the country.
We honor Patrick today because God used him to bring Christianity to Ireland. Although he was never officially canonized by the church, he was certainly a believer and so is a saint in the Biblical sense.
We can catch a glimpse of Patrick’s faith in his autobiography, Confessions (aka Declaration). You can read an English translation of the entire text online. Bear with the old style of writing—it’s well worth the time it takes to read.
Confessions begins simply:
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.
It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.
That is why I cannot be silent—nor would it be good to do so—about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.