Listen to the commentary
I don’t know what you have in your closet that’s green, but this is the week to pull it out and wear it out on Friday. There are lots of end-of-the-week Happy Hour pubs that monetize Friday evenings, but this week’s gathering will, for many of those still-struggling social outposts, pull the month into the black through the green beer that’ll flow on the 17th…
It’s been 1562 years since the death of Patrick, but Irish immigrants to America have made the feast day devoted to his memory a festive holiday, with parades in Boston, New York and Chicago that give everyone on the streets the sense of their “Irish for the Day” identity. Never officially canonized by the Catholic church, his popular designation as Saint Patrick is generally undisputed.
His story is an epic adventure. Raised in England in a religious though not faith-filled family, his grandfather had been a priest and his father a deacon and tax collector. When just 16, Irish raiders crossed the channel to England and kidnapped Patrick, bringing him back to Ireland as a slave.
For six years, he served his captors while longing for home. Working as a shepherd – without human contact and surrounded by wilderness – he recalled his limited exposure to the Christian message back home and prayed his newfound faith in Jesus into action.
He would later write that a voice spoke to him in a dream, telling him that it was time to leave Ireland. He walked 200 miles to the eastern coast and negotiated passage on a small boat back to England. Deposited on land, it took weeks of walking to return home.
For Patrick, the sense of Calling continued to disrupt his quiet. As he would later write, in a dream: “I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea – and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”
Stimulated by that appeal, Patrick spent the next 15 years – and traveled to Europe – in religious studies. He returned to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to the few Christians already there, and to expand his reach to the pagan population that had never considered the offer of Jesus.
He was in his mid-40s when he returned on mission to Ireland. His operative strategy was proven to be successful: convert the chiefs of the clans first; they, in turn, would then convert their clans through their pre-existing influence. Though not the first missionary of the Gospel to land in Ireland, he is popularly credited with establishing Ireland as one of Europe’s Christian centers.
Patrick spent the rest of his life evangelizing the lost Irish, baptizing believers and planting churches. He mastered the method of contextualizing the Christian faith to be understandable to the clans of Ireland. As he reflected on the fruit of his work, he later remembered: “Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!”
Patrick was not the first apostle of faith to receive visions that would direct their service. Four hundred years earlier: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10).
For Patrick, the Irish were an Unengaged, Unreached People Group. He was called; he was obedient; he was fruitful. Millions of people will celebrate him by name on Friday, unaware of his eternally heroic service to the Kingdom. Toast his memory and tell his story this week!