Today is March 17th, a day celebrated around the world as Saint Patrick’s Day. The day seems to be best known for leprechauns, pots of gold, four leaf clovers, and dumping dye into various rivers to turn it green. It has become a day to celebrate Irish heritage; as many men and women of Irish descent have made great contributions to society and culture around the world. Yet like many secular holidays it was originally so much more. It was a day designated to remember and celebrate the life of Saint Patrick who lived from 385-461 C.E. Or better stated, it was a day to celebrate what God had done through Patrick for the Irish people.
Patrick was not born in Ireland, he was born in Britain. At the time Britain was the edge of the civilized world. Ireland was a land of druids or pagans. Patrick was born to a family with religious roots but at an early age he had no faith in God. In many ways he considered himself an atheist. When Patrick was 16 years old he was kidnapped from his home by a group of Irish pirates and taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. He spent the next six years of his life as a slave in Ireland. It was during this time and through these circumstances that he started receiving visions from God and he converted to Christianity. After six years in slavery/prison, Patrick received a vision to escape because a boat was waiting for him to return home. After a few days he received his chance to escape and traveled to the coast where he boarded a boat and sailed back to Britain. Now in his early twenties, Patrick dedicated himself to God and spent the next dozen years immersing himself in scripture.
Patrick’s years in slavery weighed heavy on him and even though he vowed never to return to Ireland he received a vision in which he heard a voice of one from Ireland who said, “Holy boy, we are asking you to come and walk among us again.” Patrick knew that he was being called to return to the uncivilized world to share his faith. He spent the next thirty years tirelessly working to convert his former captives. He lived an ascetic lifestyle, working among the poor and with little comfort because he believed it brought him closer to God. He spent much time in prayer and reflection believing that God would always lead him in what to do and say. And legend says that by the time of his death all of Ireland had been converted to Christianity. While probably an exaggeration, clearly God used Patrick in some amazing ways.
And on a day when many in the world are wearing green it is important for us to go deeper. Patrick serves as an example for all of us because he was able to minister to his captors . The very ones that had caused the most pain in his life he was called to convert. He spent over half of his life in a place where he had been abused and suffered in the hopes that he could be a faithful witness to God. He swallowed his own pride and feelings in order to seek reconciliation and forgiveness. And because he had found reconciliation with God he became an agent of reconciliation for others; helping point even his enemies to the one who can make all things new.
This is a difficult road to walk. I will confess that too often in my own life I have failed to love and serve the enemy. Yet I’m reminded that the strength to accomplish this is not in my own ability but in the strength of the Holy Spirit inside me. So as we think through today how can we be agents of reconciliation, how can we serve the ones we don’t want to serve, how can we use the example of Saint Patrick to spur us on to greater work for God; I leave you with a prayer of Saint Patrick. May this be our prayer today.
I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak to me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to secure me – against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd. Amen