Around this time of the year, we typically celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, many people only observe this holiday, by drinking themselves silly, which is totally contrary to the spirit of the man who Christianized Ireland.
St. Patrick’s day is the date of his death and is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is a holy day of obligation; and it is also a celebration of Ireland itself.
St. Patrick was known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” And I would like to read a prayer of St. Patrick titled “I Rise Today,”
“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three. I bind this day to me forever by power of faith in Christ’s incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan river, His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb, His riding up the heavenly way… I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to harken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, the Word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard. Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me; Christ to comfort and restore me…”
When Patrick was about 16, he was captured from his home in Great Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland. Patrick says in his Confession that he discovered God during this time of captivity, and took to praying a 100x a day. And after 6 years, Patrick managed to escape from captivity, he walked 200 miles to the east coast and managed to negotiate passage aboard a trading ship to France. There, in France he trained to be Priest.
And it was then that he began to hear a word in his heart that he should go back to Ireland and to minister to those people and to teach them about God.
Patrick asked, “Am I willing and able to forgive those who have caused pain in my life? Am I willing to follow the call of God and even give my life to those who enslaved me?”
In faith, Patrick sold all of his possessions, including the land he had inherited from his father, to fund his missionary journey to Ireland. He worked as a part-time preacher and paid large sums of money to various tribal chiefs to ensure he could travel safely through Irish lands and preach the gospel. He then travelled back to Ireland as a missionary around the year 460, and tradition says that he never left.
Patrick gave his life to the people who had enslaved him and he died at the age of 77. He had seen untold thousands of people converted. Of the 150 tribes, 30-40 of them became significantly Christian. He had trained 1,000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was one of the first noted people in history to take a strong public stand against slavery.”
And you know, there had been others who had tried to bring Christianity to Ireland, but the Irish people could not grasp the concept of the Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are all said to be God.
To them it sounded like nonsense. While other missionaries had struggled to explain the concept of the Trinity, Patrick relied on a simple illustration—he used the shamrock, which is the symbol of national pride in Ireland. Each leaf on a clover is separate and distinct, yet it is part of a whole. It’s just one clover, yet with three individual leaves.
And it was by making that simple comparison, that countless Irish men and women were able to accept the basic concept of God. Thus, Saint Patrick’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of the life of Saint Patrick himself, who died on March 17, as well as a celebration of the birth of Christianity in Ireland.
In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye and his neighbors have been informed that the Tsar has evicted all the Jews from their village and confiscated all their land. There is a great upheaval and anger in the community, and there is talk of an uprising. One of the villagers says to Tevye, “We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth!”
“Very good,” mutters Tevye. “That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.”
Tevye’s insight is the same as Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Old Testament law. They knew the law was good, as far as it went, but it was inadequate because it perpetuated a cycle of violence and revenge.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
So what do we learn from St. Patrick today?
First, Patrick practiced forgiveness. Instead of training to be a minister he could have trained to be a solider. He could have built an army and gone back to Ireland to seek revenge – an eye for an eye - for what was done to him. But he didn’t. Patrick chose to retaliate with love and kindness and to minister to the people of Ireland.
Second we learn that Patrick modeled God’s character.
Jesus finished his statement about loving your enemies this way….
…But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Being a person of grace, mercy and forgiveness is to take on the loving nature of God. As Jesus said, God does not just bless those who are good, he blesses even those who are not. And we are to model that same character of God, if God indeed lives in us.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor …. act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
We pray for our enemies and we love our enemies because that’s what God does. We take on His character when we seek to be people of grace and forgiveness. And you know I am sure that St Patrick using the shamrock to teach the Irish will always be his fame, but I think it was his willingness to return to the place of his captivity and to love his enemies that will always be his legacy.
I leave you with an Irish blessing,
May God be with you and bless you.
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor in misfortunes and rich in blessings.
(and) May you know nothing but happiness
from this day forward.