I don’t think I have a drop of Irish blood coursing through my veins. Nonetheless, I will be beaming with pride this St. Patrick’s Day. I won’t be drinking green beer or wearing a “kiss me I’m Irish” button. I won’t be looking for leprechauns or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. What I will do is offer a little prayer of thanksgiving for Patrick, the evangelist of Ireland. Here was a man of strength and passion, yet also humility. He grew up in a Christian home in England, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. Patrick’s father was a deacon in the church; his grandfather was an elder. He was baptized in the church, and like some who grow up in the church took his faith for granted. At less than sixteen, he was kidnapped during a pirate raid and taken to Ireland. He was made a slave, and in this crisis, he rediscovered his faith. Patrick writes, “And my soul was restless within me so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night…”
After six years, Patrick heard a voice in the night directing him to escape. Following the voice, he made his way to the coast and obtained passage on a ship bound back to England. His family welcomed him home, but somehow he remained restless. In England, he dreamed that the Irish were calling him back, not as a slave, but as one who proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick trained for the pastorate, and he returned to Ireland. His Latin was never very good. His writing style was never very accomplished. Patrick called himself an “ignoramus.” Despite these shortcomings, thousands came to know Jesus through Patrick’s preaching and teaching. Patrick loved the Lord, loved the Scriptures, and loved the Irish. Through Patrick, God brought about the peaceful conversion of many of the warring tribes of Ireland. In a few generations, Irish warriors with the skulls of their victims hanging from their belts were replaced by Irish monks with copies of the Bible and the Church Fathers hanging from their belts.
Ever since I heard his story, Patrick has been a hero of mine. His love, his compassion, his humility, and his missionary zeal are lessons for all Christians. We don’t have to be Irish to claim Patrick, just Christian.