We don’t know a lot for sure about saints throughout history. What we do know is usually clouded and overshadowed by legends and myths passed down for generations.
Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate Saint Patrick. Many of us in America faithfully don green clothing and maybe eat corned beef and cabbage. We don’t think a lot about the man behind the holiday.
Like most saints, the stories of Saint Patrick abound. He has been said to have driven all the snakes from Ireland, his fingers turned into some sort of flashlights on a dark night, and he turned an evil ruler into a fox. Or so the stories go. Blarney? Maybe.
What we do know about Patrick is that he was a missionary in Ireland. He was born sometime in the fourth century in England and was kidnapped as a teenager by Irish pirates. Forced into slavery in Ireland, he most likely worked as a shepherd before escaping to freedom. He was not very religious at the time, but he often prayed in the fields. He credits God giving him a vision telling him to escape.
Once free, he went to France where he stayed for a while in a monastery. He eventually (perhaps after a return to England) began to have dreams where the pagan Irish asked him to return to Ireland to teach them about the gospel. He did not have much education, so he first had to convince the church to allow him to be a missionary. He studied in France for a while, but was always known for his more “rustic” teaching methods.
Many people credit Patrick with explaining the Trinity using a three-leaf clover. He often baptized people in wells, some of which are still called “St. Patrick’s Wells.” Before his death on March 17 (year unknown), he wrote Confessions about his life and mission. His love for the Irish people was clear in his writings. By the time he died, Christianity had taken root in Ireland.
We celebrate saints on the days of their deaths, so tomorrow we will wear green in honor of Saint Patrick, missionary to Ireland. When I think about Saint Patrick, I am always amazed by the love he had for God and for the people of Ireland. The people who had taken him captive and forced him into slavery were the very ones he loved enough to go back to. Patrick loved his enemies enough to share the greatest news with them.
God calls everyone to share the gospel. He called a former slave to go back to the place of his enslavement to tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick knew the weightiness of his task—he sought out an education and approval from the church before going into a place where he may be the only believer. Perhaps because of his unconventional education, Patrick knew how to meet the people where they were. He used everyday items to tell deep theological truths.
May we remember this, too. God calls us to the weighty task of sharing the gospel with those around us—those we like and those we may consider our enemies. God equips us to tell others the story of redemption, how He gave His Son so that we might live with Him forever. This is our calling, on March 17 and every day.
May we also remember those who are risking their lives to share the gospel in hostile environments, who are getting an education so that they may be clear in their teachings, who are learning about the people they will encounter so they can meet them where they are. Tomorrow, as we wear green, let’s remember to pray for those missionaries and to look for opportunities to be a missionary right where we are.