Since it's St. Patrick's Day and we are missionaries to Ireland, I feel a duty to share a few thoughts on who St. Patrick really was and why he is so important.
Who is St. Patrick and what did he do? Some say he chased all the snakes off The Emerald Isle (it is true that there are no snakes there). Some apparently think St. Patrick was a binge drinker and celebrate accordingly. Here's a bit of the real St. Patrick for you.
First off, he wasn't Irish. Around the late fourth century Patrick was born in (what is now) England. At the age of sixteen he was taken by a band of Celtic pirates, taken to Ireland, and sold into slavery. For six years he tended to the cattle of a tribal chief, Miliuc. Day and night he was out in the fields, living with cattle.
Being raised Catholic he knew there was a God (although he ridiculed the clergy), but through his isolation in nature he began to truly experience the presence of God in a life-changing way. It is said that he would pray up to 100 times per day. He grew to understand the Irish culture and began to love his captors.
One night Patrick heard a voice telling him, "You are going home. Look! Your ship is ready!" The next morning, just before dawn, he walked to the coast, saw the ship, bartered his way on, and sailed home to (what is now) Britain. After his miraculous freedom from slavery, Patrick trained for the priesthood and was given a parish in England.
At the age of 48 (beyond the life expectancy of a man at this time), he had a dream. An angel, Victor, approached him with letters from his former captors in Ireland. He imagined their voices crying out, "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us." Patrick knew God was calling him back to Ireland. At 48 years old, he became history's first missionary bishop to the very people who had enslaved him as a young boy.
Patrick's mission was assumed by most to be impossible. However, having been a slave to them, he understood the Irish, their language, their struggles, and their ways. Out of Ireland's 150 tribes, 30-40 became predominantly Christian. He ordained around 1000 priests and planted about 700 churches. In fact, he was one of the first public figures to speak and campaign against slavery. By the end of his lifetime (or soon after), the Irish slave trade came to a halt. St. Patrick launched an entire movement.
I see three interesting points in St. Patrick's transformation as a slave.
- God brought Patrick closer to Him.
- God educated Patrick in the ways of the Irish in preparation for his future ministry.
- God gave Patrick a love and a passion for the very people who enslaved him.
God wants to use us, if we are willing. No matter what our circumstances are God will draw us close to him, He will prepare us for what He has called us to do, and He will give us a passion and love for the people to whom we are called.
In Dublin, St. Patrick's cathedral stands proud, beautiful, grand...It represents who St. Patrick was to the Irish. Today, let's remember him for who he really was. A man. A man willing to let God use him to change a nation.
Are you willing?