When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, ‘tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
On March 17, people throughout the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. There are parades and there is singing, dancing, and toasting, but how many of the celebrants know why we pay tribute to the man behind the big event?
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Each month our home receives The Voice of the Martyrs, the eponymous publication of the Oklahoma-based ministry that helps inform readers about persecution of Christians worldwide. Perhaps it is clear enough why that ministry would now feature this legendary missionary to Ireland. Perhaps we can understand its mention of uncomfortable words like “slavery,” “suffering,” and the “smuggling of children” in connection with this historical figure.
In these eventful days of our own, during which reports of revival are surfacing even as we learn to repent of sin and turn back to God, consider how an entire nation was transformed so long ago by one humble man who wrote the following in his memoir, Confessio:
“The Lord opened my senses to my unbelief so that, though late in the day, I might remember my many sins and turn to the Lord my God with all my heart.”
From this contrition and subsequent consecration to God came a man who impacted the world! Let’s look at what is legend and then at what is legitimate, to be freshly inspired to follow in his steps.
Legendary Lore Set Aside
- Patrick was not Irish.
- As a young man he had no interest in God.
- He never drove out any snakes from Ireland; there were none.
- His use of the shamrock to teach the Trinity is a cute story for children, but it’s just a myth.
- Leprechauns do not exist!
Notwithstanding St. Patrick’s Day and all the green, the parades, the parties with Irish stew, and the toasts to the “luck of the Irish,” let’s get beyond the blarney to focus on the man who transformed a nation. What’s behind a man whose memory leads Irish celebrants to annually dye the Chicago River green? After all, he died over 1,500 years ago, supposedly on March 17, A.D. 461.
The Real Story
Patrick was born in Britain in A.D. 390. He was raised in a Christian family, but his interest in God was almost nonexistent. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by thugs and taken hostage on a ship to Ireland.
For six years, he was a slave toiling as a shepherd. In desperation he began to cry out to God. “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he wrote. Finally, continued Patrick, God broke through and revealed Himself in a dream, saying: “Your hunger is rewarded. You are going home. Look, your ship is ready.”
Patrick Departs and Later Returns
He found the ship and snuck aboard. It was bound for Britain. He knew God was taking him back home as he journeyed the 200 miles from the Irish coast!
Patrick returned to his family and eventually entered a monastery, becoming a minister of the gospel. In time, God led him to go back to the pagan land of Ireland to evangelize the people mired in darkness there.
Patrick would face a hostile culture of pagans known for their angry outbursts and violent behavior. (The next time you hear the term, “paddy wagon,” think of its origin among Irish immigrants — nicknamed “paddies,” after Patrick — many of whom became policemen, while others were routinely picked up in these padded wagons for their drunken brawling.)
Patrick wrote: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved — whatever may come my way!” In the face of mockery and physical opposition — history records that he was beaten by thugs and harassed by Irish royalty — Patrick persevered in proclaiming the gospel and training converts in their newfound faith.
Tens of thousands of Irish were converted, and hundreds of churches were established! Thomas Cahill writes in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, that this warrior populace “laid down the swords of battle, flung away the knives of sacrifice, and cast away their chains of slavery.”
With the fall of Rome, culture was disintegrating on the European continent. Patrick, like the apostle Paul and John Wesley, would not retreat in the face of overwhelming odds. He, like they, confronted evil and preached the gospel fearlessly. Cahill honors Patrick: “The Irish not only were conservators of civilization, but became shapers of the medieval mind, putting their unique stamp on Western culture.”
A mere 100 years after Patrick’s death, there were multitudes of churches and monasteries in Ireland, where future church leaders were trained, as a testimony to this mighty man of God. Perhaps that legacy should make us “green” with envy.
Here’s the deal: May Patrick’s courage ignite something in our own hearts inspiring us to reject silence and cowardice in the face of the cultural attacks assailing us today. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent … I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch (Isaiah 62:1). Let’s follow this world-changer in lifestyle evangelism and the courageous proclamation of truth.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me.
— Saint Patrick
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Larry Tomczak is a cultural commentator of 46 years, an IFA board member, a bestselling author, and a public-policy adviser with Liberty Counsel. His innovative video/book, BULLSEYE, develops informed influencers in 30 days (see www.bullseyechallenge.com). Hear his weekly podcast here. Photo Credit: Canva.