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St. Patrick

March 17, 2012

Well, today is St. Patrick’s Day and all of the Irish, me included, are celebrating.  We are not possessive about this celebration; you are welcome to join in even if you are not Irish.  After all, not being Irish is certainly not your fault.  But to enable your celebration it might be good to start with all the things we know with certainty about St. Patrick, so here is the list:


OK, now that wasn’t too hard a list to memorize was it?  While there is a certain amount of consensus on his story there is a lot of stuff that is legend and nothing that can be said with 100% assurance.  To the Irish this is not a problem.  Yes, nothing can be proven, but this means that nothing can be disproven either so we are free to spin colorful tales and speculations without fear of some scholar probing us wrong.  We Irish have never been able to see why other folks can’t grasp the distinction we make between story-telling and lying.

But back to St. Patrick.  What can we learn from a man so shrouded in myth and legend?  Well, it is generally accepted that he was born in Wales and was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave around age 16.  Some six years later he escaped and returned to his family.  Some time later he returned to Ireland, apparently as a Christian missionary, where he was successful in leading many people to Christ.  This all took place probably in the late 5th century and by the 7th century he was widely regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. 

Much beyond that we move to the area of fanciful stories of miracles and the like.  As an Irishman I want to believe some of them but I don’t mind if you disagree.  I also take refuge in knowing that even Patrick-debunkers seem to tell some fanciful stories in their denials.  My favorite is the one that says Patrick is really an amalgam of two or even three “real” people.  I marvel at someone who can declare categorically that the story of his using the shamrock as a gospel illustration of the trinity is a myth but can believe the three-in-one theory.

But the real lesson of St. Patrick is clear.  His story starts with an event most of would consider devastating, being taken into slavery.  But, after enduring the slavery, he ended up with a love for the Irish people and a desire to see them saved.  Patrick was a walking illustration of the declaration Joseph made to his brothers in Genesis 50:20.  “You meant evil against me but God meant it for good.”

Frankly, all too often I don’t see circumstances that I don’t like or don’t want to go through with that attitude.  I can grumble about them or even wonder if I am being punished for my sins.  St. Patrick reminds me to trust God, even when I am not only clueless about what He is doing but skeptical.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


From → Christianity

  1. My thoughts are mixed about this celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. While the Catholic part of Ireland reveres him, for most people nowadays it’s another excuse for a party. A shockingly lawless party, too, we’ve seen in some places. The Bible talks about not running with them to “excess of riot” and having no part with the revelry of unbelievers. One wonders: if St. Patrick could come back himself and see these celebrations, wouldn’t he be horrified?

    You bring out the good thought of forgiveness and caring for the souls of the people that led him to go back to Ireland with the Gospel. You also mention the legends or myths that surround his deeds; those miracles for which the Catholic Church declared him a Saint. But the legend has become so distorted from the real man and his life. So what are we celebrating: man or myth? Where is the line between Christian and pagan celebration in this case?

    I’ll admit I don’t have much in common with St. Patrick’s fans. I’ve ancestors from southern & northern Ireland, but they were Protestants–staunch Orangemen, from all reports. (They’d be rolling in their graves if they knew of my defection to the Mennonite faith.:) ) I used to be all enthused about being Irish, but since I’ve taken out citizenship in a Heavenly country, how much allegiance can I declare to my earthly roots? So I let the day pass without fanfare.

    • I understand your comment and basically agree. My roots are from southern/Catholic Ireland and many of my relatives are still in the mold you talk about. I have little doubt that Patrick himself would be horrified by the current celebration of his day. I also tease my relatives about how little we actually know about him.

      My bottom line is this: I am Irish and proud of my heritage. I still love my wild Irish relatives and the best way I can show that love it to celebrate where we are one. As you probably can guess I get lots of teasing about my being the wimpy one of the family but it is good natured and taking it with grace is the best way I can stay before them. In some ways I tend to see such boisterous family gatherings as akin to Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. I suspect he was subjected to some of the same wild talk.

      • No doubt He was, though I like to think just His presence would make people think twice about their words. However, He was in a country where nationalistic fervor ran VERY high and we read where people constantly invited Him to give His two-cents worth on the matter (as when they asked if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.)
        All my relatives so far are non-religious or maybe believers in God, but have no use for outright “religious people.” So I know about finding that balance at family get-togethers. And I really hear you about the Irish being story-tellers; a lot in our clan have been blessed with that gift. For me having this “gift” involves letting the Lord sanctify it for His use, but I know some who believe that “all FICTION is lies.”

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