March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day! Parades, feasts, wearing green… or else the pinch, shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage, and even green leprechauns. Did I miss anything? How about Patrick, the man that the holiday is named after? Isn’t it amazing that we can think about and do all these things, but never really stop to ask, “Who was this Patrick that we are celebrating?”
Patrick’s is an amazing story. Born Mowhen Soke, Patrick lived in England in an area now known as Wales in the early 400s. Calpurnius, his father, was a deacon in the Celtic Church and his grandfather was a pastor. A group of marauders came from Ireland and took captive many from Mowhen's village including teen-aged Mowhen. He was made a shepherd and was captive for six years. In Mowhen’s own words:
I am…a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive. I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people — and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of His anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.
Mowhen was a keeper of sheep and spent many long hours each day in the fields watching over his herd of sheep as they grazed. One day his heart began to soften, and he began to seek God, asking God to reveal Himself. Mowhen relates how God miraculously drew him:
And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son. Many times a day I prayed — the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me — as I now see, because the spirit within me was then fervent.
During this time he was converted to Christ, and he changed his name to Patrick, meaning noble. Miraculously his owner became a Christian, and repented of having made Patrick a slave. God spoke to Patrick in a dream and showed him how to get home-a happy ending to the story!
No, just the beginning of this incredible story! God gave Patrick another dream or vision where a man called him to preach the gospel to Ireland! Of course, he did not want to leave his family again. And besides, Ireland was a pagan land, ruled by the High King Loaghaire and the very evil Druid priests. God prevailed upon Patrick, however, and after twelve years of preparation, he went back to the land of his former captivity. This is where the real adventures began. After approximately 40 years of ministry, he had a tremendous amount of godly fruit: over 100,000 men and women were won to Christ, 200-300 churches were planted, Christian schools and one university were founded. Amazing, the gospel even reached the civil government of this once pagan nation. At Patrick’s death Ireland’s government was based upon Biblical principles; Ireland was known as a Christian nation! The Irish themselves became missionaries. They burned with a love for Christ and they went everywhere with the gospel, including Britain, central Europe, and as far north as Iceland.
One footnote: About 200 years after Patrick died, the Roman Catholic Church claimed him as one of their own and declared that he was a Saint, thus many people today refer to Patrick as Saint Patrick. The truth is, Patrick was not Roman Catholic, and the Bible says that all believers are saints. That is why I simply refer to this Godly man as Patrick.
One important take away: We should all preach the gospel wherever we can. Matthew 28:20 says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Yes, one person can do much for Christ. One simple way to share the gospel is tell someone today the true story of Patrick on St. Patrick’s Day!
Max Lyons, Celebrate Our Christian Holidays Like You Were There (Virginia Beach, VA: The Biblical Thinker, 2012) Buy now in the FACE Bookstore
Paul Jehle, Stories of America’s Christian History- Holidays, Volume II, St. Patrick’s Day
Robert J. Myers, Celebrations- The Complete Book of American Holidays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1972)
Ludwig Bieler, translator, The Confession of St. Patrick (copyright Beverly Schmitt)
Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus (copyright Beverly Schmitt)
Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983)