Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

As I was browsing through the bookstore the other day, I was hoping to find a good book on Patrick written for children so that I could introduce my son to this hero of the Christian faith. I didn't find one. Instead I found plenty of information about a mythical figure who drove out the snakes, and I found leprechauns and pots of gold and green beer and the like. What a shame. Another holiday down the toilet. Have we lost completely the legacy of a great man of God? I hope not. So I write this piece today hoping that you will be inspired by the legacy of Patrick to let God use you to change your world just as he did.

What follows is a brief biographical sketch which I condensed from an article on, written by former Catholic priest Richard Bennett (click the link to read his testimony). That article is well researched and documented, and I would refer the reader there for more information. This is just a condensation of the article for my readers to get a glimpse of who this great missionary-evangelist was.

Patrick was born in the year 373 in "Roman Britain," which is now part of Scotland. He was blessed to be a part of a Christian family. His father had been a deacon, and his grandfather a presbyter. At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by slave-trading pirates who then sold him to an Irish sheep farmer. For six years, Patrick worked as a shepherd tending this man's flocks. It was during this time that the gospel testimony of his family rested heavily on his heart and he came to know Christ in a saving way. He would say late in life, "I am greatly God's debtor, because He granted me so much grace."

After six years on the sheep farm, Patrick escaped and through much toil made it back to Scotland to be reunited with his family. It wasn't long however until God's call began to stir his heart. He had a dream or a vision which was not unlike Paul's "Macedonian Call" in which Patrick saw a man named Victoricus walking toward him carrying many letters. Patrick wrote, "He gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish,' and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Focult which is near the western sea, and they were crying as with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk among us.'"

At the age of 30, Patrick departed from Ireland with several other Christian men. He arrived in Ireland in 405. Patrick preached the gospel and planted churches across Ireland. News of his success reached Rome, and Pope Celestine sent a missionary named Palladius to join him. However, Patrick had so purely preached the gospel of God's grace that the Irish rejected the message of Palladius which called for submission to Rome and sacramentalism. Palladius soon gave up and returned to Rome. But, in the face of Druid opposition to the gospel, Patrick endured for 60 years and reached multitudes with the gospel. It is estimated that 365 churches were planted in the course of his ministry. Patrick also began several monasteries for the purpose of training young men to preach and evangelize. In that sense, they were more like modern seminaries than monasteries, with many of the men going on to marry and have families during the course of their ministries.

Because of the faithful ministry of Patrick, Ireland came to be known as the Isle of Saints and Scholars, and he as the Apostle to Ireland. His legacy endured for 600 years, as Irish Christians followed his example going to Scotland, to Britain, and all of Europe for the gospel. From the ninth to the twelfth centuries, the Irish churches began to weaken because of the influence of the Danes and the militant aggression of the Catholic church. The Catholic heritage of Ireland that is so cherished today by so many is a late development in the spiritual history of the island and does not trace back to Patrick. Rather, it was a subjection of the work Patrick started more than 800 years before Rome could influence the Irish.

So what turned Ireland from the darkness of druidism to the light of Christ? Not a mighty army or a powerful religious empire. Instead, it was one man with one holy passion to spread the glory of God over a pagan land. With the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ, Patrick lit a fire that would burn for more than half a millennium. And today, the church of Jesus Christ would do well to consider his life and his example -- to devote ourselves to one purpose -- reaching the unreached peoples with the gospel -- and to be faithful to that task unto death.

To read Patrick's "autobiography" online, see

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