THE LIFE OF ST. PATRICK
The Chicago River will turn emerald. Thousands of small children will
pinch each other for failing to wear green, and plenty of people in
Boston got smooched because they claimed to be Irish. On March 17 each
year, every American becomes Irish. Yet, while there seems no purpose
to green-sprinkled shamrock-shaped cookies, this celebration honors a
great Christian man. He may not have driven any snakes out of Ireland
(since they did not exist there in the first place), but Patrick did
spread the Gospel across the island. Through his missionary work,
Christianity took hold in the predominantly pagan nation with a
strength that has lasted to this day.
The man we know today as St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in
Britain in AD 389. His father was a wealthy Christian deacon, but most
likely because the position offered tax incentives and not because the
family was particularly religious. Then, when Maewyn was 16, he was
kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. For the next six
years Maewyn served his owner by caring for sheep in remote regions
far from human company. During this time, Maewyn turned to Christ for
comfort and became deeply devoted to God.
After six years of captivity, Maewyn decided it was time to
escape. He believed that God spoke to him in a dream and told him to
leave Ireland. After a 200 mile walk to the coast, Maewyn escaped back
to Britain, and then ended in Gaul (France) where he devoted himself
to religious training, studying under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre.
There in Gaul Maewyn came to be called Patrick.
Patrick believed he was called to return to minister to the pagans
in Ireland. St. Palladius was first sent to Ireland, but when he was
sent on to Scotland two years later, Patrick was free to take the job.
Patrick returned to the land of his captivity with the mission to
preach Christ to set the spiritual captives free. He apparently had a
good personality and people liked him. Familiar with the language and
culture, Patrick also worked to make use of local customs in order to
help the pagans understand Christianity. He used the three-leafed
clover, the shamrock, in order to explain the Trinity. Because the
nature-worshiping religions saw the sun as a powerful symbol, he
developed what is known as the Celtic Cross, with a circle around the
central section of the cross. As Patrick trekked across the island, he
started churches and schools. Several times he was arrested, and yet
he escaped each time.
Patrick ministered to the people of Ireland for decades, a
popular, winsome man who loved Christ. Finally, on March 17, AD 461,
Patrick died in County Down. His life of service has been celebrated
Today, over 100 cities hold St. Patrickís Day parades, but
relatively few people know anything about the man whose life is being
honored. As we drink our shamrock shakes (they only come out once a
year) and wear our green ties (they only come out once a year), letís
remember a man who devoted his life to the service of Christ, and
whose devotion changed the spiritual direction of an entire nation.