Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why We Celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17th

According to church tradition, Patrick was born in Britain around A.D. 385 while the country was under Roman rule. His real name was Maewyn Succat. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave and sold to a local landowner named Meliuc. For the next six years Patrick served as a slave shepherding sheep with little human contact.

Although the country was harsh and bleak, Patrick’s childhood faith—learned from his Christian parents—sustained him. He wrote, “The love of God and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain.” Under those harsh conditions,
Patrick’s childhood faith strengthened and matured and would one day enable him to reform a nation.

Patrick spent six years in slavery before he could escape and flee 200 miles to the south. There, in southern Ireland, Patrick found a ship preparing to sail to Britain.  When Patrick begged to be let aboard, the captain denied his passage. Patrick turned away and prayed for God’s guidance. Before he finished his prayer, the ship’s crew called him back to sail with them and soon he was in his homeland as a free man!

Yet Patrick’s freedom was short-lived. As he was traveling through the countryside, he was captured by bandits and once more enslaved. Patrick’s faith still sustained him and he felt reassured by the Lord that he would soon be free. Sure enough, after sixty days God delivered him!

Patrick maintained his humble faith in God and went on to study in a monastery for seven years, eventually becoming a bishop. Though living in freedom, Patrick never forgot his years in slavery. Instead of having bitterness about his trials, Patrick was burdened for the people of Ireland. The Lord wanted him to go back to them and preach the saving message of the Gospel. So in the winter of A.D. 432, Patrick returned to the land of his slavery—but this time as a missionary.

Church tradition records Patrick’s boldness with the Gospel. At the time, Ireland was led by Druids.  Patrick’s zeal brought him before the king. In the king’s presence the Druids mocked Patrick’s religion. Tradition holds that Patrick plucked a shamrock and said, “Here, there is one stem but there are three leaves on it, so it is with the blessed Trinity. There is one God but three persons stemming from the same divinity.” It is thought that this encounter with the brave missionary led the king to became a Christian.

Patrick continued to spread the gospel until his death around March 17th, A.D. 461. The Lord used Patrick’s ministry so greatly that much of Ireland had converted to Christ. It is often said that he drove out the snakes from Ireland—usually thought to refer to the Druid pagans. While there are many legends about St. Patrick’s amazing life, history is certain St. Patrick was a missionary spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

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