It’s that time!
Green beer, corned beef, parades – all for that well-known man of God, St. Patrick.
Or was he?
I did a survey among my friends, asking about St. Patrick.
“He was a crusty old leprechaun,” Jack said.
“Irish dude,” Jane answered.
The rest threw their hands in the air.
That’s about right. We’re digging through drawers for something bright green, but what are we celebrating?
Google “St. Patrick,” and the mystery deepens. No two accounts of the man are alike. Seriously. A lot of fake news out there, repeated again and again.
Fortunately, Patrick was an author. He writes about what really happened to him. It’s fascinating.
Although born and reared a British nobleman, Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery. It happened in roughly 410 A.D., when he was 15. Patrick says he sailed the Irish Sea as a slave.
Britain belonged to Rome at that time, but Roman legions had withdrawn to fight barbarian invaders. That left Britain defenseless. Patrick writes that he was one of thousands captured by Irish raiders while out in the country. He was then sold to an Irish warlord.
Patrick's father was a deacon in Britain and his grandfather a minister, but Patrick writes that he didn't believe in God. It wasn’t until he faced nakedness and hunger every day during his slavery that he changed. Patrick says he prayed fervently during those six years. He says, “God protected me and comforted me as a father does a son.”
Because of his intimate relationship with God, when Patrick heard a voice in his sleep saying that a certain ship would take him home, he took off. Patrick ran away from his warlord and somehow safely traveled 200 miles to the port designated in the dream. The ship was there, about to leave!
But the captain refused to take him.
Patrick then did what he knew best, he prayed. Before the day was out, the captain sent word for him to return, allowing Patrick to sail with them.
But once they reached land, everyone almost starved. The captain yelled, “O, Christian” and asked Patrick to pray to his God.
Patrick tells them, “Turn… with all your heart to the Lord my God, to whom nothing is impossible…”
They agreed and Patrick prayed. He writes that when a herd of swine appeared, the sailors captured and ate them, giving “hearty thanks to God.”
It’s God who leads Patrick back to Ireland. The nation was a thoroughly pagan country that worshipped idols and may have even offered human sacrifices. It’s also rumored that the Irish posted skulls on stakes or wore them on belts. Perhaps that’s what Patrick means when he writes of Irish “abominations.”
Missionary work there was like present-day Christian missionaries with radical Muslims. Patrick writes of Coroticus, apparently a warlord who would slaughter Christians following their baptism and sell the women as sex slaves.
When Patrick returns to Ireland, he carries the message of Jesus. He appoints ministers, saying that “everywhere there should be clergy to baptize and exhort…” He thereby effectively becomes the first bishop of Ireland.
A humble man, Patrick repeatedly refers to himself in his writings as “illiterate” and "a sinner,” although he has a clear understanding of Christianity. Legend has it that Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Trinity, showing how one flower with three leaves explains how God could be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once.
But converting the Irish took more than an understanding of Christian theology. The missionary Palladius went to Ireland ahead of Patrick and failed, probably because he couldn’t speak the language or understand the warlord system. Patrick knew both from his years of suffering in Ireland.
As you celebrate this coming week, remember St. Patrick. Not as a crusty old leprechaun, but for his years of slavery, nakedness, and hunger that led to a great victory for Jesus. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to an utterly pagan Ireland. His story will remind you of Robert Schuller’s famous words, “Turn your scars into stars.”
Examine the worst moments of your life. Perhaps, like St. Patrick, they could become stars for God.
The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2018, 2021 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared on The Star: Turn your scars into stars for Jesus
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