It requires 100 lbs of green dye to turn the Chicago River green for the week. 44% of Americans wear green on St. Patrick’s Day and 20% will have a drink to celebrate. In North America we have a lot of fun with St. Patricks’ Day, mostly as a celebration of everything Irish. And a lot of us have at least some Irish ancestry. 4.3 million Canadians claim full or partial Irish descent, which is some 14% of the population. Remarkable considering the Republic of Ireland has 4.5 million residents. St. Patrick’s Day gives us opportunity to have fun and celebrate our real or feigned Irish heritage, but it also reminds us of one of the great missionaries of the Christian Church.
Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in the late 4th century in England as part of the Roman Empire. He was born the son of a deacon and grandson of a pastor, but was a bit of a rebellious child who didn’t value his Christian heritage.
When he was 16 years old he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. For 6 years he worked as a slave, shepherding his master’s sheep. His master was a high priest of druidism, the pagan religion that dominated Ireland at the time. This time of slavery lead Patrick to a deep devotion to God, spending much of his days in constant prayer. In the year 408, God spoke to Patrick in a dream telling him to escape to England. He managed to escape and return home to his family.
Upon his return, he studied and became a pastor. A few years after his return he had a vision of the people of Ireland appeal to him to return, and in 431 he was commissioned to return to Ireland, determined to bring the gospel to the pagans there. He spent the remaining 30 years of his life travelling around Ireland preaching the gospel, planting churches, founding schools and monasteries. As you would imagine, he was also a vocal opponent of slave-trading, a full 1300+ years before William Wilberforce. He died on March 17, 461. Patrick was a faithful missionary and church planter who God used mightily to establish his church in Ireland.
So, on this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s honour Patrick by praying for our missionaries and church planters who likewise are forsaking their homes and families to bring the gospel to unreached people groups around the world.
Ted Olson, Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick Biography
Mark Driscoll, St. Patrick: One of the Greatest Missionaries Who Ever Lived