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Friday, March 14, 2014

Finding Saint Patrick



Saint Patrick’s Day, a day when you better wear green or you get pinched, Leprechaun’s exist and at the end of rainbows there really are riches in the form of a pot of gold. Sometimes in every day culture we don’t stop to think about why we are really celebrating a holiday. 


Have you ever wondered, “How and why in the world did we create a holiday about a Saint named Patrick?” What did he do that was so special? Why is the Shamrock a symbol many associate with this day? Why all the fake Irish and Scottish accents and green beer?

What actually began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has now become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green. The first parade to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in America was in New York City in 1762 and by mid-19th century parades were common in the United States.

Saint Patrick’s Story

Saint Patrick was a 5th century British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the "Apostle of Ireland", he is the primary patron saint of the island. The third largest island in Europe, Ireland sits in the Atlantic off the northwestern coast of Europe. Due to its climate Ireland has lush landscape with low lying mountains surrounding valleys of vegetation. Rolling green pastures with livestock roaming the hills is a common scene. Perhaps this is why green is a color we often think of when the holiday comes back around every year?

Saint Patrick's Day is observed on the 17th of March, the date of his death. It is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is a holy day of obligation and a celebration of Ireland itself.

Patrick was actually born as a nobleman about 400 A.D. in Britain, not Ireland. However, at the age of 16 it is said he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland to be a slave. He was enslaved for six years. During this time he began to learn about Christianity. He was actually a shepherd while He was studying about the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Perhaps Christ’s many analogies in scripture of a God who shepherds his people was better understood by one in the profession himself.



One of Patrick’s famous written pieces was ‘The Confession’. He describes his time in captivity as a place of spiritual development. He speaks of prayer often and of his eventual conversion to Christianity. He tells the story of fleeing his master and traveling some 200 miles to a port where he persuades the captain of a ship to allow him to board. The ship was sailing to Britain, his home. Back home, free from his former chains, Patrick began to study the scriptures even more. In his early twenties, he began to hear the call of God to return to Ireland and tell others about Christ.

Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victorious, 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." 
Patrick becomes a missionary to Ireland, heeding what he believed was the voice of God. During St. Patrick's mission, he writes that he "baptized thousands of people". He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too. Using the knowledge of Irish language and culture that he gained during his first captivity, it has been said Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in the form of more than 300 churches and over 100,000 Irish baptisms.
During his ministry, legend has it that he would use a “three-leaf clover” shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity - the Trinity being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It made sense to use the three leaf shamrock, symbolizing the three persons but One God. Due to its green color and overall shape, many viewed the clover as representing rebirth and eternal life. 
Purpose in Suffering:
As I have been considering his story I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been like if he had never been sold into slavery. Would there have been a Saint Patrick or a day to commemorate his life if he had not suffered as he did? He explains that much of his spiritual development was a direct result of his bondage.
Being taken away at such a young age from his family to a strange far away place must have been a terribly painful experience. I am sure young Patrick daily cried out to God from the fields where he was forced to be a shepherd boy. As an agnostic uncommitted to a particular God, his cries must have felt so lonely and been so desperate. Yet it is in the place of misery where his ministry was birthed.
Although we don’t know how or exactly when, we do know that God Almighty did find a way to reveal himself to Patrick. Somewhere along the way he found hope from the scriptures and learned to pray and enjoy communion with God. It was in his despair where he was forged into destiny. Christ became so real to this young man that he was willing to sacrifice everything to make him known. Later in his life as a free man he chose to go back to the place of slavery so he could set others free. The trickle effect of a transformed life can be astonishing.
How often do we complain and groan about our troubles and struggles? Would we complain so much if we understood that it might be the very place where our ministry and purpose is born? Is suffering not the place where we tend to find God? I know in my own life pain has been where God has molded and shaped my character. He has always been more interested in my integrity than my comfort. I praise him for his infinite wisdom in how he allows us to suffer. He knows the resurrection that follows affliction and what it takes in our own lives to bring us to new life. 
Consider these verses:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
A Sympathetic Savior
It’s also in the place of hurt where we are tempted to run to other means of healing for our deep wounds. For some it is alcohol, others maybe pornography or drugs? Or perhaps that salary and career we got ourselves into at the expense of quality family time? Then there was the perfect body we had to have even though it has completely ruled our schedule and created unstable health.
Jesus never promised us a place here on earth without suffering, but he did promise he would go through that pain with us. Carrying the weight of the bloody cross and of the world’s sins must have been horrific. Nails driven into his innocent hands and feet, oh yes, he is familiar with physical pain. Being lifted up for the world to see while he hung there barely able to breathe, knowing the disciples had all forsaken him, oh yes, he is familiar with rejection. Crying out to the Father from the cross and finding for the first time no comfort, oh yes, he knows what it is to feel all alone.
Let us turn to the One who suffered and died for our sins. Let us allow Him to make something beautiful out of our broken hearts. No matter what you are enslaved to, cry out to him as Saint Patrick did and you will find your tests in this life can become a testimony. There is nothing he cannot use in your life for his glory and for your good. He is a master at raising the dead and he can raise you to life as well.
So when you get pinched for not wearing green or find yourself going to a parade and drinking green beer, maybe you’ll think about Saint Patrick and his story. Then maybe you’ll be encouraged and remember that God can take any sinner and make them a saint, and even more so through your mistakes and suffering.
“For our sake he made him {Jesus} to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

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