Happy St. Patty’s Day! I have to admit that, next to Easter and Christmas, my favorite holiday is St. Patrick’s Day. I love St. Patrick’s Day! The way my wife gets excited about Valentine’s Day (which is more than you could imagine), I get excited about St. Patrick’s Day. And that’s mostly because I just generally love all things Irish. I love the beautiful rolling hills of Ireland… I love both traditional and modern Irish music… I’ve dabbled in learning Irish Gaelic… I love the old Irish culture, idiosyncrasies, wit, and work ethic… I love Irish food and drink… I love Irish dances… and one of my favorite movies is The Quiet Man.
But most of all, I love my own family’s rich Irish history.
But as we watch the annual drunken parades and pop-culture consumerism of this March holiday, you may think that no one could seem more distanced from biblical Christianity than St. Patrick. And yet, Patrick’s life looked more like a revival meeting than a shamrock-decorated drinking party named in his honor. Yet today, the dominant features of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations include green beer, leprechaun hats, and Americans (with no Irish heritage themselves and no poetry in their souls) making complete fools of themselves. Well, allow me to give you a glimpse into the history behind the holiday, and the man behind the legend.
St. Patrick was born with the name Maewyn Succat, in what later became Scotland, to wealthy Christian parents in AD 387. When he was about sixteen, Irish raiders attacked his family’s estate and took him captive, forcing him to work as a shepherd. During this time, he learned the language and customs of the Irish people. In his solitude, Patrick remembered the Scriptures that he had been taught as a young boy, and turned to God for comfort. Alone in the hills, he developed a rich, personal relationship with Christ. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped and made his way back to his family in Britain. God later called Patrick back to Ireland — back to the people who had enslaved him — to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the pagans of Ireland. So he began to study the Bible more deeply and train for mission work. Once he was ready, he returned to Ireland and tirelessly preached the gospel for 40 years before he died. As he converted the Irish, he made disciples out of them. And many of his followers went on to become renowned religious leaders as well.
By the time of his death at the age of 73, Patrick had baptized tens of thousands, and established hundreds of churches. In fewer than 100 years, the pagan country of Ireland became predominately Christian, eventually sending missionaries of its own to Scotland, England, Germany, and Belgium. I have an excellent book titled “How the Irish Saved Civilization” and a great deal of the book is devoted to tracing the incredible impact that Irish Christianity has had on the world — and the preaching and pastoring ministry of St. Patrick was the initial catalyst for this revival and spread of the gospel to the nations.
I’m impressed by the ministry of Patrick to the Irish people for several reasons, but think about this for a moment with me. He could have hated the people who stole him from his family, and forced him into slavery (wouldn’t you?), but he knew that they needed God’s love. He loved his enemies and wanted for them to know Christ like he did. That shows some amazing maturity on his part, and an intense desire to follow the will of God for his life. Also, in addition to converting many, many people, he spent time training them to lead others. We need to learn from his example of not only evangelizing the lost, but training them in God’s Word after they are saved, so that we can, like Paul tells Timothy to do, train men so they can then instruct others in the Word. Disciples making disciples – that’s what we need today!
I think it’s also important for us to review the history of men like Patrick so that we can remember real history, so that we don’t get confused and unnerved by the revisionist historical claims of anti-Christian liberalism, as well as the pagan revivalists: for example, there is little to no evidence of a “golden age” of equality among the sexes within the Druid cult. In reality, wherever the message of Christianity was preached, the truth and love of Christ brought harmony among the genders with the understanding that men and women are joint-heirs with Christ — and the relationships between men and women flourished.
I think there is a lot that we as evangelical Christians in a post-Christian culture could learn from St. Patrick. Patrick’s context was a Celtic culture deeply entrenched in paganism, led by the native earth religion of the Druid priests. This is especially relevant in this era, where pseudo-Celtic and earth-worshiping paganism is increasingly en vogue in both America and Europe.
March 17th, the date of St. Patrick’s death, is an Irish national religious holiday. Until the 1970s, Irish laws even mandated that pubs be closed on this date. Isn’t it interesting how much has changed just in the last 40 years?
So as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, drinking green beer, wearing shamrocks, and pretending you’re Irish even if you’re not that lucky, remember the real meaning behind the holiday — celebrating the life of a missionary and pastor who faithfully preached Christ to a pagan culture, and transformed the nation in its early history into a catalyst for the gospel!
And as you slide down the banisters of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way!