Or it will be…on Sunday, March 17th. Saint Patrick’s Day is my second favorite holiday (that isn’t really a holiday) next to Christmas. I’m looking forward to celebrating it this year on a Sunday, an altogether appropriate day of the week to remember God’s work in the life of a pioneer Gospel missionary. Below is an article that I wrote for one of our “small town” newspapers here in Santa Cruz County. As I understand, it should run tomorrow for publication purposes:
Saint Patrick: Truth Stranger than Fiction
There is an old adage that says, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Sometimes this worn-out trope is actually correct. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Come March 17th, the strangeness of truth will once again impress itself on our consciousness, even if we miss it altogether. Consider this: On March 17ththere’s a good chance that you’ll remember to dress yourself with at least one article of green-colored clothing. You might even take strange delight in buying bottled root beer, labeling it “Guinness,” and then serving it to your family and friends with an odd sort of triumph. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing…every year…multiple years in a row. Why such a buzz for March 17thin particular? Hello! It’s Saint Patrick’s Day of course!
Perhaps you’re one of the millions in America, like me, with a strange affinity for a small island nation because of your ancestral background (however distant and remote). Or maybe you’re the type who will gladly accept any excuse for a good party – New Year; Valentine’s Day; Chinese New Year; Saint Patrick’s Day; Cinco De Mayo; Memorial Day; Fourth of July; Labor Day; Halloween; Veteran’s Day. If you look hard enough, the party can continue year-round. Or maybe you just have bad childhood memories of too many unsolicited pinches on the arm every March 17thwhen you went to school forgetting to wear green. Whatever the reason, there’s a good chance you’ll at least be aware on March 17ththat one of those unofficial annual holidays has come again.
Regardless of how you experience this strange little “holiday” of shamrocks, leprechauns, Lucky Charms cereal, and the corned beef you eat once a year, it’s worth knowing just a little of the real history that undergirds our frivolity. Because, as I noted above, sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.
In the case of Saint Patrick, the story begins in the Roman-British town of Bannaventa Berniae, probably located somewhere on the west coast of Britain, perhaps “during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius” (Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland, 2). Patrick grew up in a well-to-do family of British landowners and churchmen (of a sort), though even into his teenage years he himself had no interest in spiritual matters. Before reaching the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner during an attack by raiders from Ireland. Sold into slavery, he spent the next six years of his life shepherding sheep, apparently on Ireland’s west coast. During that time, Patrick awakened to a new faith in God. He eventually escaped slavery, clearly guided as he understood it by God, and made his way back to Britain.
The strange part is what came next. Inexplicably, through a series of dreams, Patrick came to realize a God-given call on him to return to the land his captivity and abuse. He began to burn with an irrepressible desire to share with the Irish the Christian gospel about Jesus Christ; about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and God’s great love for people – especially the Irish. After an undetermined period of study, Patrick did exactly that…he went back!
Space precludes me from telling Patrick’s tale in full, but, undoubtedly, he spent the rest of his life sharing the story of the Bible with his persecutors, the Irish. We know of his work through two primary source writings – a scathing letter of protestation and mourning against the actions of a British warlord named Coroticus, and Patrick’s semi-autobiographical defense of his ministry commonly titled, The Confession.
So why is all of this worth reflecting on in the lead-up to Saint Patrick’s Day 2019? Well, if you’re a Christian – a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ – you may be encouraged by reading Patrick’s words. If you do, you’ll recognize a brother you’ve never met, and you’ll be stunned all over again by the rich history of our ancient faith. Whether you’re a Christian or not, Patrick’s story, when told in full, presents us with a remarkable challenge. It is, undeniably, a tale of deep humility, fabulous grace, and genuine love in the face of hurt, exploitation, abuse, and real evil. How could a man so poorly-used live so well? How can we partake of the same spirit and genuine authenticity that so captured this saint among saints?
Indeed, truth is stranger than fiction…
(P.S. Please consider joining us at Felton Bible Church at 5:00 pm on Sunday, March 17thfor a biographical presentation on Patrick.)