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home : opinion : e-opinion June 25, 2022

3/17/2022 10:51:00 AM
The Story of St. Patrick

Wayne Howard

Americans and others around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For many, the day means displays of shamrocks, leprechauns and other symbols of Irish lore. In some cities, there have been--prior to the pandemic--St. Patrick's Day parades. The biggest in the South is at Savannah.

There won't be a parade in Charlotte this year, but some may remember that once in the 1970s, we even had a St. Patrick's Day parade in Lincolnton. Then-Lincolnton Police Chief Arnold 'Jersey' Tarr and I organized it. We borrowed a white horse from Jack Hines and used food coloring to dye the horse green--sort of, the green didn't take well and was barely recognizable, so most just saw 'Jersey' riding a white horse wearing a green police hat and followed by the LHS band and a few other entries.

Some will celebrate the day with food--corned beef & cabbage one popular choice. Some may make some green-frosted doughnuts. Others will sip some Jameson's Irish Whiskey. But most of those celebrating don’t know the true story of St. Patrick, a bold missionary: a story of kidnapping, slavery and forgiveness.

Patrick was born in Britain, in the fourth century A.D., during the latter days of the Roman Empire. The Roman legions that once protected civilized Britain from barbaric invaders were called away to defend the empire in other regions. Britain was left vulnerable to attacks.

Just before Patrick turned 16 years old, he and his family were spending time at a villa by the sea, when Irish pirates attacked. Patrick’s family escaped, but Patrick and many of the family’s workers did not. They were taken to Ireland, where Patrick was sold as a slave.

Patrick's master, a Druid tribal chieftain, made him a shepherd. Although he was raised in a Christian home, Patrick never made a decision to follow Christ until he was made a slave. In his autobiography he wrote, “…‘the Lord opened my senses to my unbelief.’ He wrote that his faith in God grew as he prayed while he tended the flocks: “More and more the love of God and fear of Him grew strong within me, and as my faith grew.”

At the age of 22, Patrick escaped and traveled 200 miles to the coast of Ireland, where he boarded a ship bound for his home country. After they ran out of food, they went ashore, still far from their intended destination. The captain told Patrick to ask his God for more. Patrick responded, “Turn trustingly to the Lord who is my God and put your faith in Him with all your heart, because nothing is impossible to Him. On this day, He will send us food sufficient for our journey, because for Him there is abundance everywhere.” According to Patrick’s autobiography, when the men turned around, a herd of pigs was standing before them. They feasted for days and gave thanks to God.

Two years later Patrick finally made it to his beloved Britain and studied to become a priest and a bishop. But one night Patrick had a dream of a man who seemed to come from Ireland and was carrying a letter with the words “The Voice of the Irish.” As Patrick began to read the words, he seemed to hear the voice of the same men he worked with as if they were shouting, “Holy broth of a boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us.”

Church leaders and Patrick’s parents fiercely opposed his plans to return to Ireland. They did not think the Druids were worth saving. His family shuddered at the thought of him returning to barbaric Ireland with the gospel.

Patrick went to Ireland feeling he had been called by God to preach the gospel there. He shared the gospel with his former slave owner. But instead of turning his back on his pagan gods, the Druid locked himself in his house and set it on fire while Patrick stood outside and pleaded with him to turn to Christ. It is said that Miliuc drowned out Patrick’s pleas by crying out to his false gods.

Miliuc’s refusal to hear the gospel was just the beginning of Patrick’s challenges. He continued his journey across Ireland preaching. The Druids tried to poison him. One warrior speared Patrick’s chariot driver to death in an attempt to kill Patrick. He was often ambushed at his evangelistic events and was enslaved again for a short time. Another time Patrick and his companions were taken as prisoners and were going to be killed, but instead they were released. In his autobiography, Patrick wrote, “As every day arrives, I expect either sudden death or deception, or being taken back as a slave or some such other misfortune. But I fear none of these, since I look to the promise of heaven and have flung myself into the hands of the all-powerful God, who rules as Lord everywhere.”

Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D. So the day we celebrate is in one respect a funeral, an observance in honor of St. Patrick. Irish mythology says that the shamrock, believed to have been used by Patrick to illustrate the concept of the Trinity.

One legend says that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. There are no snakes in Ireland and snakes often symbolize the devil and evil, so that legend relates to Patrick driving the idol-worshipping Druid cult out of the country.

Much of St. Patrick's history is reminiscent of the trials and tribulations of Paul the Apostle.

So enjoy your green-frosted doughnut and other activities celebrating the day, but now you know the story of St. Patrick, in whose honor we celebrate the day when he passed from the troubles of this world to Heaven.

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