By Guest blogger Phil Hovatter

Today is Saint Patty’s Day, a day where people adorn themselves with hideous shades of green not found in nature, municipalities dye waterways green, parades are held, and buttons are worn proclaiming “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” by people you wouldn’t kiss on a bet.

At least that’s how Saint Patrick’s Day is observed in the United States. Sandy and I had the pleasure of making friends with a couple of women from Ireland while we were on a cruise a few years ago. When we asked them how Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Ireland, they said, “Why, people go to church, of course!”

Imagine that! Instead of going to parades or lining up for green beer at the local tavern, the Irish observe the day honoring their patron saint by going to church.

I think they could be on to something. I think Patrick would like their way better than ours.

Patrick is one of the most interesting characters in history. Surprisingly, he himself wasn’t Irish. He was born in England around the year 387 to a Christian family. His father was deacon and his grandfather had been a priest. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold into slavery. It is believed he lived on the far western shore of Ireland where he served his master as a shepherd. Not unlike some shepherds from biblical times, Patrick used the opportunity afforded him by his shepherd duties to pray and grow closer to God.

After six years of slavery, Patrick seized the chance to escape from his slavery and walk 200 miles to the east coast where he boarded a ship to take him back home to his family in England.

Only two documents written by Patrick have survived. In one of them, he tells about the circumstances leading to his return to Ireland. Much like the vision Paul had when he received his Macedonian call, Patrick tells about the vision that he had:

“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”

Of his own free will, Patrick returned to the land and the people who had captured him and bound him into slavery only a few years earlier. Instead of holding a grudge against them, he held a burden for them and for their salvation.

The Ireland of Patrick’s time was a wild and dangerous place ruled by regional warlords. Patrick brought peace to the nation by winning the warlords to Christ. He founded a series of monasteries as outposts and training centers for the spread of the gospel. While the medieval civilization around them was crumbling as the Roman Empire was being dismantled by rampaging hoards of barbarians, Patrick was preserving every scrap of literature and art that he could in his monasteries, to be passed on to subsequent generations.

You can read more about this in the book by Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.

So today is Saint Patty’s Day. How will you celebrate?

God bless the Irish.

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