Saint Patrick’s Day has become a huge cultural celebration that transcends religious beliefs and ethnic boundaries. Hey, after all, everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s Day!
But it occurred to me that very few students knew the story behind the parade…the man called Patrick. If you have never read or familiarized yourself with his life, I highly recommend it. Once kidnapped in slavery at age 16 and brought from his home in England to the land of savages in Ireland, Patrick had visions from God that gave him strength and lead to his escape.
So inspired and moved by God once home, he felt compelled to return as a missionary to preach the gospel to a land that had never heard the message of Christ before. The story continues and his writings are full of profound insights, theology, prayers, and confessions that challenge and inspire me deeply. I have included at the end a hymn written by Patrick back around 430 AD.
Yet, very few Christians (especially Protestant) know his story. Often we neglect to appreciate the deep and rich history of our faith and should admire courageous men like Patrick for their example, commitment to Christ,and ministry.
I for one was greatly misinformed about the rich history of our faith growing up, and personally was very prejudice against anything “Catholic” until I actual studied about the history of faith and theology while attending seminary.
While there are clearly some injustices, heresies, and atrocities associated with Catholicism, the same is true in Protestant history. While we acknowledge and repent of these, we should still be able to recognize and celebrate the many positives. There have been and are great missionaries (like Patrick) and great theologians in the past and present such as Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, Jerome, Justin Martyr, Francis of Assisi, Henry Nouwen, and Thomas a’ Kempis,whose book the Imitation of Christ is still regarded as one of the most influential Christian devotional books written).
My point is that only when I started to read and research and embrace the history of our faith, did I come to realize how God had clearly been working throughout the history of the church, well before the Reformation.
Patrick happens to be a great missionary, who God worked through to preach the gospel, perform miracles, and reach an unreached people group for Jesus.
What the Catholic church has done to patronize him and how we celebrate his day, should not take away from the man himself and what God accomplished through his life of obedience, faith, and dependency upon the Holy Spirit.
I have come to learn much from the past and to embrace the practices of ancient Christianity (from the early church father to the mystics). My faith has increased as a result.
Also, I am open to what the Spirit of God is doing here and now in our midst and am willing to give Him permission and freedom to work (even if it appears to be outside of my traditions or areas of comfort) God is much bigger than our rules, traditions, regulations, and even “sacredness” of the religion itself) That was the message of Jesus and unfortunately the pious religious leaders at the time did not embrace that message and killed Jesus for it.
Though they had good intentions, they missed what God was doing in their midst, and I for one, do not want to fall into that same category and judgment.”
We have much to learn and celebrate from the rich and diverse history of our faith. The traditions of past and present, while different from our own, provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith to increase. Perhaps our small, tightly packaged box of beliefs and views can actually open up and expand to become a much larger, fuller, and deeper box.
This national “holiday” of sorts, Saint Patrick’s Day has given me an opportunity and invitation to expand the horizons of my students as we learn together to appreciate what God has been doing through his servants throughout the centuries. Of course, we can also expand our food and spirits horizons at your local Irish pub!
So, as you listen to U2 or The Cranberries (depending on your style) and drink some Guinness (depending on whether or not you are Baptist!), thank God for examples like Patrick, and may we all follow in his footsteps of a life of obedience, sacrifice, servant hood, piety, faith, prayer, and mission.
(by the way, Patrick was not recognized as a “Saint” until decades later, did not drive out snakes since there were none in Ireland at the time, did not use the 3 leaf clover to describe the Trinity, and was basically kicked out of the priesthood for failure to submit to authority. He was however a great contextual theologian and missionary who reached an entire people for the Kingdom of God)
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.