The Real Story Behind St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. We mostly think of wearing green to celebrate, but the man behind the holiday has held a growing fascination for me. Perhaps it’s because he lived as a missionary, something I wanted to become when I was a young man. Or perhaps it’s the autobiography he wrote, simply called Confessio, a document that is the starting point for Irish history. Or perhaps it’s the legacy he left. The Irish church was largely responsible for keeping Christianity alive through the Dark Ages through its monasteries, its missionaries, and its preservation of the Scriptures. That fascination recently grew as I viewed movie about this man, called I Am Patrick.
But I think the most telling reason why he fascinates me is that he embodies the heroic man, knowing who he is and what he is to do with his life. Here is the real St. Patrick, the man behind the holiday.
Patrick Knows His Identity
Patrick was not Irish, but born English in the 5th century into a well-to-do family that had ties with the Roman government. His father was a deacon in the church, and he grew up with a nominal faith. But tragedy struck him in his teen years when he was kidnapped by slave traders and taken to Celtic Ireland as a slave. At that time Ireland was considered to be the end of the world. Here under harsh and perilous conditions, he spent his days and nights outdoors as a shepherd.
But here his heart also awoke to God, and he began to pray fervently. In this place of desolation, he felt an extraordinary consolation, that he was a beloved son of the Father through Christ. He knew he was loved and forgiven and protected, even out in the wilderness of primitive Ireland. It was that deep grounding in his identity as a son that became the foundation on which he was to build his life. For what happened next was the call to do something with his new life.
Patrick Knows His Quest
Through a miraculous series of events, he was able to return to England and his home. His family and friends now urged him to stay at home forever. But God had a different idea. In a vision he received at night, he heard the voices of the Irish asking him to come back to Ireland and walk among them. Upon waking, he was so stung in his conscience that he knew this was God’s call. Despite objections from his family, he entered the priesthood and eventually became a bishop. Then he set sail to go back to the very place of his enslavement, not knowing what would happen.
The rest of his story reads like something out of the script of any epic movie. He faced dangers from slave traders, hostility from Druidic leaders, and even betrayal by church leaders. Remember at that time, Ireland was outside the edge of civilization. Tribes warred with each other, there were no roads or infrastructure, and animistic idolatry prevailed. Despite all the obstacles, Patrick persevered in his quest. He would enter a village, preach the new message of the gospel, form a church of new converts, train elders, and ordain priests (he could do that as a bishop). Then he would move on to the next village and repeat the process. Over the years, thousands became followers of Christ, including some of the Druidic kings.
What We Can Learn From Patrick
What can we learn from this man? First, the most obvious lesson is the impact one man can have. When a man receives his true identity and starts on his quest, there are no boundaries to what can happen. A man’s influence becomes super-infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, multiplying his words and deeds beyond what he could have imagined.
Second, the Holy Spirit took what church teaching Patrick remembered from his youth and burned it into him when he was a slave. The knowledge of God’s love and presence inflamed his heart, yet he had no Scriptures to read and no church to support him. God can raise up stones to praise Him in the most bleak of circumstances. He loves to use us, but God doesn’t need us to build His kingdom.
Third, Patrick lived a heroic life, sacrificing so much for the good of others. He left behind what could have been an easy, comfortable life to take on a perilous adventure in the Spirit. He did this in obedience to the Lord he loved, but he also did it for the sake of the Irish, who lived in shocking darkness and ignorance. But Patrick’s life is not unique. The life of the heroic is open to any man who follows Jesus.
Want To Know More?
The docudrama I Am Patrick is available from CBN. I was able to see an early showing of it, and it is well worth your time. I felt inspired again by this one man’s love and obedience to Jesus. For more information, click here.
Also, the Confessio is short, readable, and offers a unique window into one of Christianity’s most well-known men. To view a pdf version of it, click here.
Finally, wear some green on March 17, and if you dare, eat some green eggs!
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Six years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministries to help men connect their stories to God’s story through retreats and spiritual direction. His newest book, Heroic: The Surprising Path to Manhood, is helping move men forward in their quest. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for more than 30 years and having two amazing daughters, Abigail, and Rachel. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN.