The Fascinating Life of St. Patrick
March 17th has long been observed as the feast day of St. Patrick in the greater Christian tradition. However, much of what is purportedly known about Patrick is traditional legend. Some of the stories that you may have heard about Patrick include his explanation of the trinity using a three-leafed clover, or the fact that Ireland does not have snakes because Patrick chased them all away. While these events cannot be definitively proven, and they do make for a great story, what we do know about Patrick is equally as fascinating and inspiring.
Although Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland, he is actually not Irish. Patrick was born in Roman occupied Britain during the latter part of the fourth century, his father a deacon. Little is known about his early life, but at a fairly young age, between 14 and 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates who invaded his city and was taken to Ireland as a slave. Ireland is where he would spend the next six years of his life being used to herd livestock.
Though he was raised in a Christian home, Patrick would later write that it was not until his enslavement that he became a Christian. During his time in Ireland, Patrick devoted himself to God and to prayer, and it was during this period after his conversion that he felt God was calling him to escape the bonds of slavery and return home.
We are not entirely sure how Patrick did it, but he did escape and return home, and shortly after arriving home, he moved to Northern France to prepare for ministry. While in France, Patrick felt that the Lord was leading him back to Ireland, this time as a missionary. Around 431 AD, he would bring the message of the Christian faith to Ireland, leading to Christianity’s prominence in the country.
Beyond what can be gathered by only two surviving works of Patrick’s, not much is historically known. In fact, Church Historians don’t even know how well we have the timeline of Patrick’s life nailed down. But, what Church Historians do agree on is that Patrick was instrumental in preserving literacy and learning in the West. More importantly, Patrick remains highly influential in the movement of missions.
Think on Patrick’s life with me for just a second: God used Patrick’s slavery to awaken him to the realities of his own spiritual slavery, and not only liberated him from that, but led him out of his literal slavery as well. God then led him safely back home to Britain, then to France where he received his education, all to prepare him to go back to Ireland to preach the gospel to the very people who kidnapped him and held him captive. What a great picture of the transforming work of the gospel and a great example of faithful gospel witness!
Patrick was compelled to respond to God’s call to missions out of a deep sense of the love of God and an overwhelming thankfulness for what God had done for him. Because Patrick had experienced the mission of God in salvation, he was called to participate in the mission of God.
What motivated Patrick to share the gospel with his former captors are the same things that motivate us to share the gospel with those who are far from God. Because we have experienced salvation through a supernatural act of God’s love, the sending of the Son, we are called to proclaim the Savior. We are motivated to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation because of a sense of thankfulness; God saves sinners, and we have experienced this first hand.
As St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, I would ask that you would join me in doing a few things.
Spend time in prayer for the modern missions movement. If you know of, or support missionaries, pray for them specifically. If you do not know or support missionaries, pray for those who are out in the field in general. Pray that their witness would be strengthened and that God would use their work to call people to himself.
Consider how God may be calling you to tangibly join in the work of missions. Read and meditate on the Great Commision. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This draws out another motivation of missions. Christ, the one who has all authority, will be with us. Wherever God has called you, he will go before you, preparing the hearts of men and women to respond to the gospel. The harvest is ready.
With that, let me leave you with one of Patrick’s prayers:
May Christ shield me today.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when 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 that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.