The Inspiring Story of Saint Patrick
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The life of Saint Patrick offers so much more than merely a cause for festive merrymaking. Born in Roman Britain during the Empire’s waning years, Irish raiders kidnapped him while still a youth. He spent years in Ireland as a slave. At that time, British Romans were Christian, whereas Ireland still adhered to the old pagan sects and beliefs. Despite his status as a Christian and a slave, Patrick developed a heart full of love for the Irish people. He finally escaped slavery. He would later return to Ireland, destined to become one of history’s greatest missionaries. In time, Ireland would produce one of the most beloved and beautiful flavors of the Christian religion.
Patrick’s famous life offers many lessons for devotional reflection. He took the gospel’s message of unconditional love to heart. He became a servant leader committed to meeting Ireland’s needs, even when he had once been enslaved there. Like all servants, he lived for, and with, his flock. He chose to live in one of Europe’s most remote, rugged locales. The story of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland actually reflects a larger principle for Christian reflection: We are created in God’s image. Our essential humanity stands beyond the base, ephemeral world of nature.
Patrick also epitomized the Christian emphasis on teaching others. His clear preaching of the gospel helped to meet the full range of human needs, like the best education always does. However apocryphal, the famous story of Patrick’s use of the shamrock to explain the subtle concept of the Trinity reflects the importance our faith places on clear and down-to-earth teaching. Following Christ’s example, the best teachers use simple examples to illustrate powerful truths. After Patrick, Ireland would become one of Europe’s most important centers of learning, a remote haven of books, thought, and Christian love.
Patrick teaches us to hold fast. The dramatic stories of Patrick’s standoffs with druidic priests of the old Irish religion reflect the genuine struggle that Ireland’s first Christians endured from the forces of established beliefs and power structures.
Finally, Patrick’s life also reminds us we never know what might someday come of the small steps we take in our own short lifetimes. The little seeds we sow today might later grow into mighty forests, even if we never see the full fruit of our labors.
Over the centuries, Ireland has bequeathed to the world its own brand of Christianity—one flavored by the rich heritage of Celtic music, symbolism, and the green beauty of the island as a whole. Countless millions celebrate Saint Patrick’s day, sometimes in ways that seem markedly devoid of its original sacred purpose. Yet, that, too, is part of the blessed heritage of Saint Patrick. All these centuries later, Patrick still inspires love, community, and the good cheer that comes, ultimately, from the Christian gospel. Like all Christian holidays, on Saint Patrick’s Day we share love and cheer with all our fellow humans, regardless of status, creed, or any other artificial difference. It is a day to reflect on learning, and the enlightening role that the Christian religion has played in history. Perhaps most of all, it is a day to remember how important each individual life is to God’s larger purpose. Even very small deeds can grow mighty over time, when blessed by God’s favor.
Heavenly Father, help us to remember the life of Patrick and its beautiful admonitions to teach, to share, to love, and to serve. May we remember Patrick’s example—this day, and every day.
David Leinweber (Ph.D.) is an Associate Professor of History at Oxford College of Emory University. He is the author of the new book The Art of Ancient Music (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020).