St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and I love to tell the story of his life and work that has inspired me so much as an apologist. So here’s a reposting of that story for you to think about this coming week. Let us not forget the purpose of the arguments we learn or neglect the personal communion with God that empowers us.
St. Patrick’s Day is a deeply humbling, inspiring, and joyful day. I’m ashamed to admit that up until a couple of years ago I knew nothing about St. Patrick, but now that I do, this day truly moves me towards both reflection and action.
Sometime around AD 400, Patrick, a sixteen-year-old Briton, was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. He had previously rejected the Christian faith of his parents, but during his six years of captivity, he repented and gave his heart to God, praying constantly as he tended sheep alone in the hills. When he escaped and returned to Britain, Patrick was far behind his peers in terms of education and never really caught up, but he worked hard to receive the theological training he needed so he could return to the Irish as a missionary—to the very people who had enslaved him:
I must take this decision [to return to the Irish], disregarding any risks involved, and make known “the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation.” Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children, so many people in their thousands whom I have baptized in the Lord.
Thanks to Patrick’s love and service, within a hundred years, the country was transformed from an illiterate, pagan nation of war, slavery, and human sacrifice to the guardian of the literature of Western civilization as Rome crumbled. After the dust settled, it was the Irish who traveled into Europe to plant the seeds of spiritual renewal and learning through the creation of monasteries that protected the ancient manuscripts and re-evangelized Europe.
God began all this through a man who felt decidedly unqualified for service, but who loved God completely, believed He is true, and was willing to give his life for others:
[God] stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of law, as well as “persuasive in their speech” and in every other way and, ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world, to be fit to help (if only I could!) faithfully and “in fear and trembling” and without any complaint that race of people to which the love of Christ drew me and thus spend the rest of my life, if only I might prove worthy; simply to serve them in humility and truth.
Patrick was adamant, particularly at the end of his Confession, that nobody who reads his words should ever attribute the work he describes to his own abilities and power. But rather, they should glorify God who was the One working in him and through him, a humble former slave. He reminds us that everything accomplished through him was a gift from God. The irony of this holiday is that Patrick would be horrified to learn that not only is there a special day now devoted to him, but that day is cluttered with leprechauns, gold, and good-luck charms—the kind of paganism he worked so tirelessly to rescue people from in the first place.
Instead, I pray you’ll see this day as a reminder of the value of bringing Christ to the lost through prayer, suffering, sacrifice, and loving your enemies. And above all, I pray it’s a reminder of the value and glory of God Himself who loved a small country of barbarians enough to make sure even they would come to know Him.
So let Patrick’s words now be ours:
At last I came here to the Irish gentiles to preach the gospel.... Now I was able to hand over the freedom of my birth for the benefit of others. And should I prove worthy, I am ready and willing to give up my own life, without hesitation for his name.
(I encourage you all to read Patrick’s story in his own words in The Confession of St. Patrick and see how the God he loved changed the world through him in How the Irish Saved Civilization. To tell your children about the real St. Patrick, I recommend The Story of St. Patrick.)