Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
When we lived in Pittsburgh, our oldest daughter, Hannah, participated in the Irish dance community for a season. Weekly practices, weekend feis competitions, and the annual St. Patrick’s day parade filled the free time on our calendar. The parade (which happens to be the third largest in the USA) was an “interesting” cultural experience. It was a mix of young and old, of sober and inebriated—all of whom were celebrating Irish ethnicity with great enthusiasm. But I doubt very few would have known the real story of their legendary hero. St. Patrick was more than a snake exterminator or the Patron Saint of Ireland. In fact, he wasn’t even Irish. He was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary who evangelized a society who was Celtic polytheistic and who became Ireland’s first bishop. But what is most fascinating is his backstory.
According to Confession of Saint Patrick, at age sixteen, Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates who took him to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. While in captivity, Patrick worked as a shepherd and strengthened his relationship with God through prayer. In the sixth year, he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home and that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he traveled on foot to a port, two hundred miles away, where he found a sailing vessel and with difficulty persuaded the captain to take him. After three days at sea, they landed in Britain. Experiencing the loving-kindness of God through answered prayers, he eventually made his way home to his family. Now in his early twenties, Patrick continued to study Christianity, and a few years later he received a vision from God that would inspire him to return to Ireland.
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.”
And so Patrick did—but not without encountering more suffering from those who were hostile to aliens and their foreign religions. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside their protection. Resultantly, he faced repeated defamation, persecution, and imprisonment. Nevertheless, Patrick persevered and repeatedly forgave those who sought to cause him harm. What’s interesting to me is that much of his life embodied one key teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5:43-44 ESV
Arguably, Patrick was used by God to save the day for Ireland by radically forgiving, loving, and praying for those who persecuted him. For one who unwaveringly followed the way of his Master, Patrick’s story is truly worth celebrating. So as March 17th approaches, let’s honor St. Patrick and take time to reflect on what it means to radically forgive our enemies as Christ has done for us (Romans 5:10).