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The real St. Patrick
March 12, 2012
by Deacon Taylor, St. James Lutheran Church, Howard Lake

“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.” Acts 16:9-10.

Scripture is clear that God sometimes calls us when we least expect it. This account in Acts occurs when Paul believes he should be traveling east, but Jesus had other plans to further the kingdom to the west.

A very similar experience happened to St. Patrick of Ireland, who is remembered every year on March 17th. St. Patrick recorded his vision as follows:

“ . . . I saw a man coming, as if it were from Ireland . . . he carried many letters and gave me one. I read the heading ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ . . . they cried out . . . we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

So, who was this man of God? Patrick was originally from Wales and his name was Cotraige (Cot-rage). He was born in 340 AD, and lived 100 years. His father was a church deacon in the Welsh town of Glannoventa, and Patrick was a devout Christian.

About the age of 16, Patrick was captured by a band of Irish raiders, brought back to Ireland, and forced to be a slave around County Antrim. Like a young David, he served as a shepherd of flocks, but he missed his family and prayed daily to God for deliverance.

Around the age of 22, he escaped his Irish master and ran away to a seaport. There, he signed up as a deck hand and sailed for a time before returning to his home in Wales.

Despite having been his master’s slave, Patrick had an affection for the Irish and knew that they needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus. Although there were a few Christians already in Ireland, Patrick saw little evangelism. He knew this was the mission God had called him to do.

In his late 60s, Patrick returned to Ireland with his first Irish congregation in County Down. There, he was given a barn by a local chieftain and Patrick turned it into a church, preaching the Good News of Jesus to his flock. This spot today is called Sabhall Phadraig, meaning Patrick’s Barn. All accounts indicate that he was very much loved and revered by the Irish people. In fact, the name Patrick is an affectionate old Irish term, similar to Daddy (Pater).

Like Paul, Patrick was not a shrinking violet when it came to confronting people about the Gospel of Christ. He was famous for knocking over pagan and Druid shrines when he entered a new village. By his own account, he was sometimes beaten, robbed of all he had, put in chains, and briefly sentencedto death. Like Paul, he got up, dusted himself off, and continued with the work of the Lord.

Still, Patrick was a man with a mission, having baptized thousands of people. He would not accept gifts from local kings, opting to convert their sons instead. He ordained ministers, while starting convents and monasteries. To help new converts understand the Holy Trinity, Patrick would often use the shamrock as an object lesson: green with life, with three leaves on one stem representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, March 17, the date of his death, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican calendars celebrate his mission to the Irish as an inspiration for modern Christians to follow.

As Paul wrote in II Timothy 4:1-2, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who judges the living and dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”