Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. For most, it’s a day of shamrocks, leprechauns, wearing green and getting wasted on green beer — none of which has anything to do with the man this day is named in honor of.
Most of what we know about him is from his own writings. He was raised in a Christian home — his father was a deacon, his grandfather a pastor or bishop. He wasn’t a Roman Catholic, nor was he Irish and he didn’t drive the snakes from Ireland.
He was born to a British nobleman about 387 A.D. At 16, he was captured by marauding pirates from Ireland and sold to a cruel chieftain to tend his livestock. Like the prodigal, he soon realized how he’d taken for granted his life growing up. In desperation he began crying out to God, remembering the faith of his grandfather. He later wrote: “The Lord opened to me the sense of my unbelief that I might remember my sins and that I might return with my own heart to the Lord my God ... The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more — and faith grew and the Spirit within me was ardent.”
Six years passed, during which his faith matured and grew, as well as his skill with sheep and handling sheep dogs. He also learned the Celtic language and became familiar with the Druid religion. Followers of the religion worshiped the sun, moon, water and rocks, and believed evil spirits inhabited the trees and hills. Magic and human sacrifices were part of this religion.
One night he dreamed God was telling him to escape. It troubled him because the consequences if caught would be severe. But the dream returned, telling of a ship being readied for him. So he fled 200 miles to the coast, where he found a ship preparing to sail. He asked to board, but was refused because he couldn’t pay. Disheartened, he prayed, “Lord, you led me here, I know you won’t fail me now.” As he watched them loading the ship, he saw they were having difficulty loading some wild sheep dogs. He offered to help; the skills and experience over the past six years earned his passage home. Finally he was free of the mistreatment and slavery of his captivity.
Upon arriving home, he was grieved to learn his father had died, but heartened to know he would gain the political position his father had held. Things seemed to be looking up, until one night he had another dream. In it, he saw the faces and heard the pleading of the Irish people begging him to return. When he awoke, he thought how foolish to return to those people with their strange customs, pagan religion and who had treated him so cruelly. As he considered this, one thought came into focus: The Irish lived as they did because they didn’t have what he had found while suffering there — an intimate and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. The next 20 years were spent preparing and studying the Scriptures. In 432 A.D., at 45, he set sail for his return to Ireland.
He faced opposition, persecution and even death, but in time his biblically based preaching of the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ lifted the Irish out of the darkness of paganism into the glorious light of truth. Thousands came to know the Lord and about 200 churches were started, which remained independent of the Roman Catholic Church for 700 years. His disciples went to Britain, Europe and as far as Italy preaching the Gospel.
He died in Ireland after 30 years, amazed how the Lord had taken that shivering hungry, sinful slave and given him the opportunity to share so effectively what he had been given with those who needed it so desperately.
No mention of him is found by the popes who were his contemporaries or in any Roman Catholic writings until 175 years after his death.
Kenneth Codner is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Spring Mills. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.