We don’t really know exactly when Saint Patrick was born, we believe that it was the year 390 but we don’t know the day. We do, however, know the day he died and that was March 17, 461, so we honor Patrick on the day that he died since we know that date. There are so many fascinating things to know about Patrick’s life. For example, he was the first Christian missionary to say slavery is wrong, and, sadly, he would be the last one to talk about it for almost a thousand years. I find so much hope and inspiration in his life story, that I want to share just three things with you about Saint Patrick.
#1 SAINT PATRICK OF ENGLAND
Did you know Saint Patrick wasn’t even Irish? He was born in England to a good, well-to-do family and received a good education. He attended church with his parents as a boy, but later as a teenager, he very openly admitted that his faith didn’t mean much to him.
In those days, the Irish sent out raiding parties from Ireland to England in search of small villages where they would come in the middle of the night, steal children and put them on a boat, sailing back to Ireland before the parents woke to discover their children were gone. The Irish were very involved in slave trading, stealing young children and teenagers from England and carrying them back to Ireland. Patrick was 16 years old when the raiders came and took him one night. He was taken back to Ireland and there he was sold to a man named Milineck, who sent him out into the hills of Ireland to tend the sheep for six years.
The life of a shepherd meant you might go months without seeing another human being, which also meant you were not receiving food. Patrick would later write about his experience saying, “there were two things that were my constant companions: hunger and nakedness; he said, “my stomach was always growling and it was hard to stay warm.”
He began to pray and finally he was praying one hundred times a day and one hundred times at night. The more he prayed, his soul began to grow, his spirit went deeper and there he found a reason to find hope, to find peace and in the midst of this difficult situation his faith began to sustain him. One day he went to sleep and heard a voice say, “Patrick wise up, your prayers have been heard, it’s time to go home, your ship awaits.” He knew that it was Christ who was speaking to him and so the next morning Patrick got up believing that he was wrapped in Christ and decided to walk away from being a shepherd and head east. He had no idea where he was, but he knew he would eventually reach the coastline and he walked about 200 miles before he a seaport town. The fact that he was never followed or questioned is nothing short of a miracle.
He went straight to the seaport captain and said, “I’d like to sail with you.” The captain denied him, but Patrick continued to believe that God was with him, so he prayed, asking God, “Show me what you want me to do, where am I supposed to go?” As he was walking away, one of the sailors hollered out, “Come with us, if you want to go, we’re leaving now, you can sail with us.” Patrick ran back to the ship, jumped on, cast off the dock lines and they were out of there. It took them three days to sail to England.
When they finally reached land in England, they found the towns had experienced complete devastation. Most historians believe that the Barbarians who were illiterate hungry, had crossed over the river and were sweeping through Europe. They were like locusts consuming everything in their path. Patrick and his crew didn’t realize that when they landed, they were following in the heels of devastation of these Barbarians.
They became so hungry, they feared they would starve to death. The pressure was on for Patrick. The sailors began saying to him, “You believe your God is so strong, why doesn’t he feed us?” Patrick encouraged them to pray. Not long after Patrick uttered, “Amen,” they heard a noise and here came a herd of pigs coming over the hill. That night they ate well. They were thrilled, it was a wonderful meal and they began to believe this God of Patrick’s must be great. They did not want to hold Patrick captive, so they let him go free.
#2 RETURNING HOME TO ENGLAND
It took Patrick almost a year to get back home to England and when he was no longer a teenager, but was now a young man in his early 20s. Can you imagine how his mom and dad felt when he walked through the door? Their child had been stolen when he was 16 years old. They never expected to see him again and suddenly Patrick is back and he documented the moment in his writings: “They fell on my neck and they hugged me and we cried and they held me.” His mom and dad said what you might expect, “We are never letting you out of our sight again, you’re never leaving this house again.” They were so happy to have their son back home, to be able to hold and love on him.
Patrick began to adjust to freedom and living at home and then one night, in a dream, a man came to him. It was a man he had met in Ireland and he was carrying a fist full of letters for Patrick. He opened the letter and it said come back to us, we need you. Patrick felt as if God was telling him to go back to the Irish people, so he prayed about it and confirmed that God was calling him to go.
He became an ordained priest and told the church that he wanted to be a missionary in Ireland. No one understood why he would choose that. Patrick would be the first missionary to go to a country that had not first been conquered by the Romans.
#3 CHANGING IRELAND FOREVER
Patrick’s influence over Ireland was dramatic. He influenced the people in so many ways, encouraging them to end human sacrifice. He spoke out against slave trading and stealing children and slavery ended before he died. He literally changed Ireland. I think it’s important to note that Patrick was no frowning saint. He had an incredible spirit of courage, compassion, generosity and love. He was a man who knew how to have fun, to embrace life, and he touched the hearts of the people of Ireland. Patrick was able to do that because he discovered what it meant to be loved by God
What’s special about Patrick is he believed he’d been loved by God and that’s the message he wanted to share with others. The spirit of Ireland that we all know and understand today was due to Patrick’s influence and it is so accurately portrayed in this passage:
The Irish Blessing
“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall softly upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”