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.