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The Real St. Patrick

March 17, 2010

St. Patrick’s day is no doubt one of the most popular holidays for partying during the entire year.  I have always had an affinity for this day because the strongest roots I have are Irish since my Great Grandpa was Irish.  Yet that is about the depth of my appreciation earlier in life.  I remember once in college going to a pub in Boulder, CO to participate in having a pint of Guinness with millions of others to break some Guinness World Record or something.  It has become an excuse to get drunk, drink terrible green beer (its gross trust me) and get stupid.  Ironically, this probably resembles Ireland prior to St. Patrick than after him.

In Seminary years after the Guinness incident, I had to read two books on St. Patrick of Ireland.  I was inspired and he became a new hero.  His letters Confessions and Letters to the Soldiers of Coroticus are the earliest documents in Ireland, amazingly humble and exalting of God’s work in Jesus Christ.   In these letters we find a man of real faith who was rebellious as a teenager, endured oppression through enslavement by an Irish tribe (Patrick was a Roman-Briton), and courage in following God’s voice to flee back home.  Despite all this, and the general impression that Ireland was the edge of the civilized world, full of marauding lunatics and half-human barbarians, he responded to God’s call to go preach the gospel to the very people who enslaved him.  Amazing, most cry for justice and destruction, yet Patrick cried for mercy in Jesus Christ.

He was likely a contemporary of St. Augustine at the time of late 300’s to early 400’s.  St. Patrick’s day is supposedly the day he died.  Patrick was not the first to go to Ireland as a missionary, it was Palladius of Gaul who failed and died after a year and said the “wild men of Ireland wound not listen to him.”  Patrick responded to God’s call to return voluntarily to Ireland and spent the rest of his life where he reached 30-40 of over 100 Irish tribes and planted 700 churches.  The legend of him driving out snakes in Ireland is actually a symbolic story of him driving out the pagan Celtic beliefs and practices that would make even San Francisco blush.

As a result of Patrick, the Irish became the leaders in sending missionaries for the several hundred years later.  They planted churches in even Palladius home of Gaul (France) and beyond.  They became leaders in Christian art and music and are still quite influential to this day.  “Be Thou My Vision” is a classic Celtic Hymn and perhaps why I like it so much.  Some argue it was the Celtic missionaries who saved Europe in the Dark Ages.

Above all, we see that St. Patrick and his Irish disciples were not about drinking beer into a stupor, but recognized their fallen humanity and their great savior Jesus Christ.

Here is Patrick in his own words, this is the first section of his letter, Confessions.  Immediately you see his heart, I encourage you to read it here or his denunciation of slavery long before anyone else through the condemnation of Coroticus’s actions.

I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.  And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.  Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.  For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.  He himself said through the prophet: ‘Call upon me in the day of’ trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ And again: ‘It is right to reveal and publish abroad the works of God.’  I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul’s desire. I am not ignorant of what is said of my Lord in the Psalm: ‘You destroy those who speak a lie.’ And again: ‘A lying mouth deals death to the soul.’ And likewise the Lord says in the Gospel: ‘On the day of judgment men shall render account for every idle word they utter.’ So it is that I should mightily fear, with terror and trembling, this judgment on the day when no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each and all shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgment seat of Christ the Lord.

Also check out my fellow Irish-American’s blog, O’Driscoll…

Happy St. Patrick’s day from one sinner turned saint by the grace of God to another.

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