St. Patrick’s Day is just over two weeks away and many look forward to the celebration with wearing green and eating corned beef and cabbage, perhaps beginning the day with a 5K Charity Run. In honor of Saint Patrick and his impact on Christianity in Ireland, March 17th (Patrick’s Birthday) was made an official Christian Feast Day in the 1700’s. His story is one of incredible witness.
About the age of 16, he was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain and taken as a slave to Ireland. He worked in the fields looking after animals and during that time encountered God; After six years, the Lord told him it was time to leave and he escaped, returning to his family.
Over time, his faith deepened and in his 40’s, he returned to northern and western Ireland to share the gospel. His days as a slave provided insight into the hierarchy of the Irish clan system, his former master being a cheifstan. As he ministered to the clan leaders, his influence permeated the groups. It is said he used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
What’s most intriguing about St. Patrick’s life was his authentically transparent faith in difficult circumstances. It wasn’t until he became a slave that he encountered God. Alone and far from home, he sought after the religion he once ignored. What he found was more than he could have ever planned.
In Patrick’s memoir, Confessio, captures the essence of his life…
“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.
It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.
That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.
I tell of how the good God often freed me from slavery, and from twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express. I wouldn’t want to hurt my readers! God knows all things even before they are done, and I have him as my authority that he often gave me warnings in heavenly answers, – me, a wretched orphan!
So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life.
I pray that God give me perseverance, and that he grant me to bear faithful witness to him right up to my passing from this life, for the sake of my God.”
Merriam-Webster defines witness as one who has personal knowledge of something. St. Patrick had personal knowledge of God’s goodness, compassion, and grace and wanted nothing more than for others to experience the same.
God continues to perform miracles, provides a way of escape when none is apparent, and grants unexplainable blessings. When we share with others what He has done in our lives, we are witnesses – we have personal knowledge of the character of God.
The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. (Acts 22:14-15)
The shamrock may symbolize the Trinity, but it can also represent God’s desire that we
1. know Him, 2. see Him, and 3. hear Him. We will know Him by reading His Word and spending time in prayer. We can see Him in the beauty of nature, in the joyful faces of children, in the magnificent creatures He has made. He can be heard in the stillness of the night, in a gentle whisper, in the depths of our hearts. And these three things will be our testimony.
Lord, thank you for the permanent imprint You have left on Your creation. From the oceans to the mountains and everywhere in between, Your greatness is obvious. Help us to be mindful of the ways You show goodness, compassion, and grace. May we be witnesses by boldly proclaiming the evidence of Your presence in our lives. Amen