March 17th is officially two months away, yet I have been drawn to St. Patrick’s Day for a much longer time.
For the last few years, I have been stirred by the life of St. Patrick of Ireland. Even during the recent Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I was thinking more about Patrick than I was concentrating on holiday festivities.
The annual St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th is not an ‘official’ holiday, and although named for a Christian, is thoroughly secular with its toasts of green beer to everything Irish, and traditional parades in New York and Boston. Ever since boyhood, I have been curious about St. Patrick’s Day if only because I was reminded to wear something green that day in order to avoid being playfully pinched by schoolmates. And about the only information I possessed about the historical person was that he supposedly used a three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity.
I suspect that people are widely unfamiliar with the Saint, yet his life, from reading his autobiographical Confession, is a stirring one. Reading more like a self-defense of his ministry than an actual autobiography, the Confession reveals a humble, self-effacing, ardent lover of Jesus. As a prodigal teenager on the British frontier, he was captured by Irish raiders and forced into six years of slavery as a shepherd. The captivity humbled him, and he sought the Christ of his parental upbringing in constant prayers. Back in Britain after escape from servitude, God called him in a dream to return to Ireland – to preach the good news to the very race who had enslaved him.
Written probably late in life, the Confession reveals almost no specifics about his role in helping to disciple the Irish to Jesus, although a later chronicler, Muirchú, attributed Ireland’s conversion largely to Patrick’s ministry. Instead, Patrick repeatedly confesses his unworthiness and gratefulness to God and quotes Scripture profusely with references to the Great Commission and belief in the Trinity. He divested his resources in order to extend the gospel, even paying ‘protection money’ to tribal chiefs to ensure safe travel. And he had a life-and-death loyalty to his converts.
Beyond the trivialities that purport to honor him every March 17th stands an eminent Christian worthy of emulation. Every Advent season, Christians decry the secularization of Christmas. St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to claim the Day for the Church and to use his life to reawaken the Body of Christ to the love of God and the commission of Christ.