Usually St. Patrick’s Day and spring feel a little bit closer to each other than they do this year. We’ve still got a good three inches of snow/ice on the ground, but we must still celebrate the green, right?
One of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard about St. Patrick, I learned while visiting Ireland a few years ago with my family. I had been unaware that Irish raiders had invaded Britain in the late 5th century and had taken Patrick captive at the age of sixteen. The isolation of this experience is said to have resulted in a strengthening of his faith, to which he turned for solace and hope.
After six years of slavery, he escaped and trekked 200 miles across Ireland to return to Britain. Shortly thereafter, he had a vision in which he felt he was being called to go back to Ireland–the very land that had once enslaved him–as a missionary. And this is the crazy part, he doesn’t appear to have freaked out or begged God to change his mind. He spends the next decade or more studying to become a priest, and upon completing his training, he returns to Ireland for the rest of his life, telling the Irish about God’s love and baptizing thousands of converts. Brave or stupid?
Because I’ve always thought of St. Patrick as Irish, this didn’t seem like such a big deal to me at first. I thought it was more about him going “home.” But Ireland wasn’t his home! His story is the equivalent of a Mexican being sold into slavery in the US (we had a case of this here in Albany), who then escapes back to Mexico, only to return later to minister God’s love to Americans. Seems pretty amazing to me. Once I got back to my home country, I think I’d probably want to stay put, and it might take me a whole lifetime to forgive the people who enslaved me.
But it seems like God gave Patrick a love for the Irish. Patrick forgave his Irish captors and returned to share the precious gift of faith with them, in accordance with the scripture: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).” He is certainly a role model who has stood the test of time.