For many, St. Patrick's Day brings up visions of cartoony leprechauns, four-leaf clovers and wearing the color green. The Plumber's Union in Chicago even dyes the Chicago River green for the holiday. But much as Santa Claus has nothing to do with the historical reason for Christmas, leprechauns and four-leaf clovers have nothing to do with the historical reason for St. Patrick's Day.
In the fourth century A.D. during an uncertain time period in the Roman Empire, Patrick lived in Britain with his family. Just before he turned 16 years old, Patrick and his family were on holiday by the sea in a town called Bannaventa Berniae.
One day, this little town was attacked by Irish pirates. The pirates captured Patrick, took him to Ireland and sold him to Miliuc of Slemich, a druid chieftain. Miliuc gave Patrick the task of herdsman.
Patrick had grown up in a Christian home, but he had never made a decision to follow Christ until he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Not only did he choose to follow Christ, but he started to pray. And as he prayed, miracles began happening.
Here's what he writes in his autobiography: "But after l had come to Ireland, it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day, and, as l did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day. More and more the love of God and fear of Him grew strong within me, and as my faith grew, so the Spirit became more and more active ... In snow, in frost, in rain, I would hardly notice any discomfort, and I was never slack but always full of energy. It is clear to me now, that this was due to ... the Spirit within me."
In other words, as Patrick's faith in Christ grew, the Spirit became more and more active in his physical body. God not only kept him protected and comfortable in cold weather and poor working conditions, but God's Spirit also gave him energy.
After six years of enslavement, Patrick started having dreams from God. In one dream he heard a voice say, "Soon you will be returning to your own country. In a second dream, he heard, "Come and see where your ship is waiting for you."
At 22 years old, Patrick escaped slavery. He writes in his autobiography, "I turned on my heel and ran away, leaving behind the man to whom I had been bound for six years. Yet I came away from him in the power of God, for it was He who was guiding my every step for the best. And so, I felt not the least anxiety until I reached the ship."
Patrick escaped slavery because God promised him a ship. When he arrived at the ship, the captain sent him away, but as he was leaving, the captain called him aboard and told him the rest of the crew wanted Patrick to board.
The captain made the right decision because during part of their journey, they had to travel on foot for 28 days, and during those 28 days, they ran out of food. The captain challenged Patrick to ask God for food. Patrick prayed publicly, and when they turned around, a herd of pigs had appeared. He and his friends feasted for days.
Patrick's family was overjoyed when he reunited with them in Britain. He quickly began studying to become a priest. In the middle of his pursuits, God asked him to return to Ireland by giving him a dream in which his fellow slaves back in Ireland were shouting, "Holy broth of a boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us."
But Patrick's family, friends and church leaders discouraged him from going back to Ireland. The druids, notorious for torturing runaway slaves and enemies, were known to weave runaway slaves into giant wicker baskets and suspend them over fires.
Still, Patrick heeded God's call. When he again reached Ireland, he tried to share the gospel with his former master Miliuc. Strangely, Miliuc locked himself in his house and set it on fire. All the while, Patrick pleaded with him to come out and turn to Christ. To keep himself from hearing Patrick, Miliuc cried out to his pagan gods.
As Patrick journeyed across Ireland, druids tried to poison him, imprison him and violently kill him. But he never backed down. God kept him safe.
And with God's help, Patrick drove the cultic practices of the druids out of Ireland, replacing those practices with the truth of the gospel. Sadly, instead of being known for driving cultic practices out of Ireland, he's known by many as the man who drove the snakes out of England. Over the 1,600 years since Patrick lived an incredibly selfless, faith-filled life, the real stories of God's miraculous dismantling of satanic practices in Ireland have been replaced by legends, leprechauns, good-luck charms, pots of gold and other cute fairy tales.
I believe if St. Patrick were alive today, he would use his namesake holiday to celebrate Jesus, the gospel and the miracles God did for him as he preached Jesus to the often cruel and savage people of Ireland. He would get rid of the cute fairy tales and remind us of what his life represents. He lived most of his life on an island filled with the most barbaric evil. He also experienced and was filled with power and love from the most beautiful Savior. And when the two went head to head, there was only one winner. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
This popular prayer is often attributed to St. Patrick:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
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