St Patrick, The Apostle to Ireland
I grew up in Chicago where celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal. The traditions of dying the Chicago River green, the St. Patrick’s Day parade and of course, green beer made it a fun holiday. I proudly wore my shamrock pin on my green sweater to display my Irish heritage. That was about as deep as my understanding of St. Patrick’s Day went, but today, I can say those things have nothing to do with St. Patrick! He wasn’t even Irish! Sadly, most holidays celebrated today don’t bear any resemblance to their original intent.
Patrick was born in Wales somewhere around 375-390. He grew up in a Christian home with a mother who taught him the Word of God; but he did not follow Jesus as a youth. I imagine he complained and was restless during this time of study, but his Mom was dedicated to planting the seeds of the Word in her Son. When Patrick was 16, his family was celebrating at their villa near the sea when Irish pirates attacked and captured Patrick along with several of the family’s servants. The pirates took their captives back to Ireland to sell them as slaves. Patrick was purchased by a Druid tribal chieftain who gave him the job of looking after his sheep. During long days in the countryside tending sheep, Patrick encountered God. The Word that had been planted in his heart as a boy began to come alive to Patrick and he repented for his sins. His faith in Jesus, His Savior, grew strong and he found himself praying day and night. He was being transformed from the inside out as he spent those hours in the presence of the Lord. One night he had a dream that he was going to go back to his home. Shortly thereafter, he was able to escape and board a ship bound for Wales. He knew that God had made a way of escape from him so he traveled without anxiety of being caught.
His parents were delighted to see him again and helped him settle into a new life. He decided to study to become a priest and a bishop, but in another dream, he saw the men with whom he worked in Ireland calling out to him to return. He knew that the Lord was calling him to minister in the land of Ireland. Frantically, his parents and church leaders tried to stop him from going back to the barbaric Druids. Patrick, however, willingly laid aside all of his plans to follow Jesus’ instructions. He loved the people of Ireland and wanted desperately to see the Druids know the love of Jesus. Amidst persecution from his friends, as well as his enemies, Patrick returned to share the gospel, becoming the Apostle to Ireland. Through his ministry, many of the Druids were converted and baptized. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Patrick performed signs, wonders and miracles; resurrections were his specialty. One story tells of Patrick’s confrontation with the Druids at the time of their vernal equinox celebration which coincided with the celebration of Easter that year. During their ritual bonfire, Patrick shared the Gospel of Jesus. Many Druids believed, but others tried to kill him. Though experiencing many disappointments and hardships, Patrick faithfully served God in Ireland for 60 years.
During this time he established churches according to the first century church model described in the New Testament. He was not a catholic serving under the Pope, as many people suppose. He was led by the Spirit of God alone and is said to have raised up at least 365 churches served by a pastor or elder. He also established monasteries that were equipping centers for those called into ministry. These were not the kind of place where men become monks and live an isolated life. Rather, men would commit to living at the monastery while they studied Scripture and learned how to evangelize others. After that, they would return to their family and communities to spread the good news. Because of Patrick’s work, Ireland became known as the “Isle of Saints and Scholars.”
It is not clear why March 17th was chosen as “St. Patrick’s Day. ” Some believe it was the day of his death. Others believe that the Pope chose that day because of its tie to the vernal equinox. We know it was Constantine, the Catholic Emperor, who chose to merge the Christian celebration of Passover and Jesus’ resurrection with the pagan celebration of the goddess Ishtar. This was tied to the vernal equinox. Though the dates jump between March and April each year, its far-reaching effect was to separate the Christian celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection from its foundation in the Passover celebration. By claiming St. Patrick as a patron saint in the Catholic Church and highlighting the vernal equinox, they succeeded in redefining him and watering down his powerful testimony.
Patrick’s legacy was carried by Irish missionaries and the Celtic Church through much of Europe up until the ninth century. Constant pressure by Papal Rome sought to marginalize the gospel by divorcing it from its Jewish heritage and context. Finally, the Pope authorized the military invasion of Ireland and bribed the King to submit to Rome’s control. This led to forced submission of the Church to the religious traditions of the Catholic Church and set up the Pope as the authoritative religious leader. The vibrancy of the New Testament church was lost by taking the Word of God out of the hands of the people and making religious leaders the voice of authority. When the celebration of Passover was terminated, the power of Jesus’ Blood was diminished. Consequently, the Body of Christ began to grow weak. We have suffered from this loss ever since….until now! Before Jesus comes again, He has promised to restore His Church to its former glory. The end-times church is rediscovering the truth about its heritage and St. Patrick is a significant part of that.
As part of the “restoration of all things” mentioned in Acts 3:21, let us take hold of the legacy of St. Patrick and celebrate his life as a true hero of the faith. We share the same high calling he had, if only we are willing to receive and believe what Jesus says about us. It’s time to lay aside our own plans, as Patrick did, and serve the Lord wholeheartedly. He is coming soon!