Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day! Sadly, our culture has turned St. Patty’s into a viable excuse to turn everything green, dress like fictional characters, and attempt to drink our weight in whatever suitable libation is closest to us. So, I thought we’d try and remember the saint for his saint day and the reason we celebrate it—the REAL reason.
St. Patrick, the saint and bishop formerly known as Maewyn Succat, has a fuzzy origin story in terms of his birth year. So far, I’ve found three different years in which he could’ve been born: 373, 385, or 390. Fortunately for us, the rest of his story is fairly accurate. He was born into a military family and lived a pretty dull life for his first sixteen years. His father, British military officer and deacon, Calpornius, and the rest of his family attended church regularly—but ‘Patrick’ didn’t believe in God. When he was sixteen, his dull life suddenly took a frightening yet nodal turn when he was kidnapped from his family’s villa by Irish pirates and whisked away to Ireland.
He spent the next six years as a herdsman tending to the local nobility’s flocks. While under the duress of capture, he turned his life over to Christ and began building the faith his father tried to instill in him prior to their separation. After six bleak years, Patrick had a vision of stowing away on a ship that would carry him back to Britain. With his newfound faith strong, he escaped during the night and—BEHOLD—the ship was there! He stowed away in the cargo hold and arrived safely back into England a short time later.
The rest of his life is better chronicled than that of his youth. Patrick, once back in England, had another vision; God apparently was calling him back to Ireland to spread the message and Word of God to the Irish folk. While he felt God’s call, he knew he couldn’t simply return and begin teaching without having had proper instruction, himself. Over the next 12 years, Patrick studied theology and became a priest—he spent time in France doing so—and then returned to Ireland as an ordained priest with a commission from the Pope to spread the Gospel.
Patrick proved instrumental in proliferating Christianity within Ireland and the surrounding area of Northern Britain. He authored two books, Confessio and Epistola, and spent the remainder of his life baptizing, confirming, and encouraging Irish Christians. He died on March 17th, 461 CE, which is now known as St. Patrick’s Day.
There are a couple of fun legends associated with Patrick, as well. One depicts him as a wild-man, carrying snakes and eventually sending them slivering off the cliffs of Ireland into the sea. Another—and perhaps the most notable—is his usage of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.
So, this weekend while you’re green-beering, kilting, and doing the jig, take a moment to remember the great missioner St. Patrick for who he really was: A convert turned zealot who wanted nothing more than to serve Christ by bringing others to Him. Happy St. Patty’s Day!