In the more solemn season of Lent, St. Patrick’s Day breaks our small acts of self-denial with a day of celebration. St. Patrick’s Day is often equated with Irish heritage parades, shamrocks, leprechauns, and beer. Recently, Benjamin, my six-year-old, asked me, “What’s the day people pinch you if you don’t wear green?” Here’s a little bit about the life of St. Patrick that might help us turn St. Patrick’s Day 2016 from a holiday to a Holy Day.
St. Patrick is known as the Apostle to Ireland. He was actually English, born in Britain, and a Roman citizen at the time. His father was a deacon in the English Church and his grandfather was a priest. His parents did well financially. He was trained in the Christian faith. Britain was unstable at the time and unguarded. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and was sold into slavery. He worked as a shepherd boy for six years in extreme isolation under a man named Miliuuc in modern day Ulster. This isolation from people led him to pray daily and he often prayed hundreds of prayers each day by his own testimony.
One day as he sat hungry, he prayed. He heard a voice that told him, “It is good that you fast, for soon you will return to your own country.” On another night, the same voice told him, “Come see, your ship is ready.” Patrick immediately began a 200-mile walk to a port and after some negotiations with the shipmaster, he boarded the ship that was transporting a supply of Irish wolfhounds.
It took nearly two years for Patrick to return to Britain. After a brief stay, he studied theology in France and was ordained a deacon in the English Church. During this time of preparation, he had a vision in which he was handed a letter by a friend. It read “The Voice of the Irish.” He then heard someone say, “We ask you, holy boy, come back and walk among us once more.” Patrick set his mind to return to Ireland and within time, was ordained a priest. In AD 432 at the age of 47 he was appointed as a bishop to the Christians in Ireland.
Bishop Patrick and his traveling missionary community baptized thousands into Christ, planted many local churches and monasteries, and preached the Gospel and served the poor in the remotest parts of Ireland. “To the heathens who were his former captors, he brought the ultimate and most precious gift: the love of God.”