Without any digging around on the interwebs, you might be led to believe that St. Patrick is merely a mythical creature who bestows candy and gold at the end of a rainbow. Do you see St. Patrick as a Santa Claus that comes at the beginning of Spring? Well, hold on to your Lucky Charms! We're about to discover the truth about the person behind St. Patrick.
Story in our homeschools is such a powerful teaching tool!
A Story of Possession
Patrick, which was his name long before saint was placed in front of it, was not Irish by birth at all. He was probably Scottish. Can you imagine all of the St. Patrick's Day parades if St. Patrick was identified by his birth place rather than by the land he grew to love and represent?
He was likely born to Roman parents who were pretty well-off, or so the story goes. Which always begs the question, "How in the world did he get taken into captivity?" But, he did. He was only 16 years old. And it was the Irish marauders who were his capturers. The rest of his story reminds me of the story of Joseph and his captivity into Egypt. Patrick's story became one of a God of Providence, and one where we see God with a bit of a sense of humor.
Patrick was sold by the Irish mauraders to a Chieftain and tended the chieftain's flocks. During those long days, God got a hold of Patrick's heart. Patrick recounts in his memoirs, called Confessio, that "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; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me."
We can surmise that Patrick must have heard the Gospel before his captivity, but in truth, he could have heard it after. It's still the beginning of our story.
A Story of Preparation
I hope I don't ruin your day by telling you, there's no such thing as coincidence. God is sovereign over every little detail. This includes Patrick's captivity, who he would serve, and what he would learn during that time.
God has this habit of setting people apart for a time in order to prepare them for something big. Let that be an encouragement to you. Patrick could have laid down in the fields of his master and threw a pity party. He didn't. The Holy Spirit worked on him. As Patrick opened his heart to the Lord, God gave him what I believe to be a supernatural gift of language.
In just six short months, he mastered the Celtic language. If you're likely a Roman by birth or Scottish, Celtic or Old Irish isn't the easiest thing to learn.
Modern-day missionaries go to language school for one-year minimum in order to learn a language. It then takes total immersion into a new culture to begin to master it. But, Patrick mastered the Celtic tongue in six months. God was preparing him in His own missionary school.
A Story of Place
And as the order of Providence often goes, Patrick was also blessed by God with the gift of place. This is when the Lord puts you someplace for his purpose you wouldn't otherwise go. In Patrick's case, it was being placed as a servant or slave to a master who was a Druid priest.
God equipped this man to be a missionary to a people of a foreign tongue, in a foreign land, with a foreign religion. But, Patrick wasn't a saint yet. He escaped his master and headed towards a ship to carry him back to Britain.
As the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable, so God would continue calling. And Patrick would eventually listen.
A Story of Providence
Patrick would return to his homeland, but this time he was on a mission to serve God. As Providence would have it, God placed other missionaries in his path. A missionary, also known in Christian history as St. Germain, would help grow Patrick's understanding of service to the Kingdom of God.
God would call Patrick back to Ireland. But, in the days of the early church, the Bishop had to recommend you to the Pope to begin your mission. While awaiting his commission to the Irish mission, Patrick studied the Scriptures and prepared himself continually.
Shortly before the Pope's death, he commissioned Patrick, named Ireland's apostle, to the land of Ireland. Now, all the preparation God had accomplished in Patrick beforehand would come full-circle.
In today's culture, we're often given recounts of Christianity that show our faith as one of warring conquest. But, the truth is, Christianity won the world over because it's a story of Truth. Patrick would share the Truth story with the pagan Druids, at great risk to his own life and those of his companions, because God had given him a mission of Peace.
When the opportunity presented itself, Patrick stepped forth from obscurity to set a people free from superstition.
Tradition and history tell us that Patrick defied an edict requiring all fires throughout the land to be extinguished until a signal blaze was given from the royal mansion. Patrick stepped forward at a place called Slane, and lit the Easter fire. Yes, that was the date, Easter in the West.
Now, imagine with me for a moment you're the Royalty in this situation. You've given your word and expect it to be obeyed. And what do you see? Opposite your own mansion, a fire is lit. Curiosity probably quickly turned to rage. Who was this? Who did they think they were?
If you're Patrick, your heart is probably beating out of your chest. You can hear your enemies swearing against you. They knew that if the fire wasn't extinguished, and Patrick along with it, their hold over the people would be lost.
And though every attempt to extinguish the fire was made, it would not be put out.
From Paganism to Peace
Patrick's time among the people of Ireland, teaching and discipling them in the Truth of the Christian faith would result in a mass conversion of the Irish people. It is said that by "faith and prayer" Patrick won over Ireland. Truly, his mission of peace, the Gospel of Peace, won over the people as it had won over Patrick years before.
With openness to the Christian faith now available, the missionaries were able to reach more and more people. To understand the powerful effect Patrick and the missionaries had on the old superstitious ways, you'd have to understand their deep love of God and for the people of Ireland.
This poem by Patrick, we'll now call Saint Patrick, can give you a glimpse of the man himself, Ireland's Apostle.
The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick —
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
Ideas to put into practice based on the story:
- Notebook about Patrick and other famous people from Church history.
- Read the story aloud. Identify new people, places, languages, and ideas and make a list. You can create a research paper from very basic to detailed.
- Create a timeline of events for Patrick. Create a bigger timeline for Church history and place Patrick's lifetime within that timeline.
- Look up the type of government that changed for the Irish people with the advent of Christianity. Ireland is also known as the world's first republic. Discuss why this might be.
- Have a Saint Patrick's Day that honors his work. Instead of dressing up in green and pinching those who aren't, think of ways you can use the gifts and callings God has placed on your own life to further the spread of the Gospel.