Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Saint Patrick Challenge

The Saint Patrick Challenge

By Tammy L. Hensel

As a child St. Patrick’s Day meant very little to me, except that if I didn’t wear green someone would pinch me. I had no clue who Saint Patrick was or why someone one named a day after him. Most inquires along those lines usually ended with a story of him being sort of a pied-piper who drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

Even today I find there are many Christians who know very little about Patrick or what he really did to deserve the honor of a special day. I want to share with you an astounding quote I read in The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas MacManus (Copyright 1921 Fourth edition published by Konecky & Konecky. I found this book on the bargain book table at a local book store. As a history buff just couldn’t resist it.)

“The coming of Patrick to Ireland marks the greatest of Irish epochs. Of all most momentous happenings in Irish history, this seemingly simple one had the most extraordinary, most far-reaching effect. It changed the face of the nation, and utterly changed the nation’s destiny. The coming of Patrick may be said to have had sublime effect not on Ireland alone, but upon the world. It was a world event.” (p. 109)

Scholars differ on where Patrick was born, but it is thought the year was 385. His family lived both in the Dumbarton region in the Northern Roman colony of Briton (Scotland) and in Brittany in Gaul (France). His father was a Roman official in the region and there are records of him at both places during the time period, although most sources I read lean toward the Scottish location as Patrick’s birthplace. Patrick was christened in the Christian church with the name Succat. When he was about 16 years old, he and his two sisters were captured in an Irish raid. He was sold to a farmer and assigned shepherding duties.

Succat (Patrick) later wrote that at the time of his capture he was not living the life of a devout Christian. According to MacManus, “He confesses in his biography that in his wayward youth at home he had forgotten God, and from Him wandered into the ways of sin. Alone with his herd upon Sliab Mis during the day and the night, the months and the seasons, his spirituality was reawakened.” (p. 110)

Like Joseph and David, God used the circumstances of Succat’s life to prepare him for a great destiny. During those years, he learned the language, the customs, and the heart of his captors. He learned to listen for the voice of God and follow His lead. After about six years in captivity, he escaped from Ireland and returned to his homeland with a desire to learn all he could about the great God he now served with all his heart. He traveled through much of the Christian west at that time and spent some time studying under his mother’s uncle, St. Martin of Tours. At some point he had a vision of a man from Ireland calling to him with the words, “come to us, O holy youth, and walk among us.” (p111)

With a commission from Pope Celestine, who consecrated him as Patricious, Bishop of Ireland. Patrick returned to the land of his captivity, knowing the perils he would face. He traveled the island, preaching the gospel, establishing schools and monasteries, and tearing down pagan shrines. Despite often life-threatening opposition, Patrick so demonstrated Christ’s love to the people, that soon they opened their hearts to both he and his God.

MacManus wrote “. . . when we contrast the two widely differing natures of the Irish people who before Patrick were carrying the ruthless law of the sword far over sea and land, and that very different Irish people who, after Patrick left the conquering sword to be eaten by rust, while they went far and wide again over sea and land, bearing now to the nations – both neighbouring and far off – the healing balm of Christ’s gentle words. All histories of all countries probably could not disclose to the most conscientious searcher another instance of such radical change in a whole nation’s character being wrought within the lifespan of one man.” (p. 126)

To me this statement is an awesome testimony, not just to the man Patrick, but to his witness for Christ and the power of God in his life. It is clear from Patrick’s own writings that he gave all glory to God for his accomplishments. How many of us can say that we practice God’s love so completely that the whole character of a nation could be influenced by our witness? MacManus adds, “An unquenchable burning desire for bringing souls to Christ was the passion of Patrick’s life. And he pursued his passion with an unremitting perseverance, with a greatness of mind and grandeur of soul that has infrequently been paralleled in missionary annals, and seldom surpassed.” (p. 126)

What a legacy to leave! To me this is the challenge Patrick’s life inspires – to have that same unquenchable desire, passion and devotion to Christ so that I share His love and message to all I meet. Will you also accept that challenge today?


This one of the greatest and most loved of all traditional Irish hymns. The music is an Irish folk tune that predates Saint Patrick. While some say the words were penned during Patrick’s lifetime, others attribute it to a 6th century Irish poet names Dal­lan For­gaill. Either way it is definitely part of Patrick’s legacy to us today. It was translated from ancient Irish into English in 1905 by Mary E. Byrne.

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