Wait a minute... is there really more to this day than corned beef & cabbage dinners, green beer, and 'Kiss Me I'm Irish' t-shirts? This day doesn’t actually have anything to do with bar crawls or Lucky Charms? Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the unofficial sentiment that “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Plus, I do absolutely plan on stopping by McDonald’s for a Shamrock Shake at some point today. But there are much deeper roots of this holiday that go relatively unknown by those in our country today.
Today (yesterday) is the Feast Day of St. Patrick, commemorating the life and legacy of the man who brought the gospel to the Irish. Born in England way back in 389, St. Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved by savage and violent Irish raiders at the young age of 16. He was sold to be a shepherding slave by these pirate warriors, living in horrible conditions—often hungry, cold, threatened by elements and abused by his captors. Patrick was enslaved in Ireland for the next 6 years before he escaped and fled back home. He later confessed that as a youth he had turned away from God; but it was during his time as a slave that Patrick was led back to faith in God. Upon his escape and return to England, he spent the next several years in a monastery strengthening his relationship with God. After becoming a priest, St. Patrick sensed God's call to return to Ireland as a missionary.
He came back to Ireland, a beautiful country that was ruled by tribalism, warlords and druids. They worshipped many gods and practiced magical arts. Patrick came and told them about the true God. Against great hostility and aggressive resistance, he preached throughout the land and was so successful that Ireland became known as the Isle of Saints. His ministry led hundreds of thousands to Christ.
St. Patrick established the first Christian church in Ireland and is said to have planted over 300 more. He was also responsible for sending out many of his converts to Christianity out as missionaries to other countries. Patrick was the first church father to speak against the abuse of women, particularly slaves. And he was the first missionary outside the Roman Empire. He proved God's love by his own. St. Patrick’s message is best summed up in a poem he wrote that expresses his faith and trust in God. It is called “The Breastplate.” It reads like this:
“Christ be 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 inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
There are a lot of legends surrounding St. Patrick, but the real St. Patrick is well worth remembering. He was a man who understood his need for Jesus, evidence by the fact he would start every letter by writing, “I, Patrick, a sinner…” He was man who trusted in God and was a bold, powerful witness for the Lord. Indeed, what he did in bringing Christianity to Ireland is well worth celebrating. So, go ahead today and have your fun with leprechauns and green-colored food. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not forget what a St. Patrick’s Day celebration is all about—bringing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into a world of darkness. (For a quick-read article with more background on St. Patrick, check out this site.)