He was neither a leprechaun, an elf, nor full of blarney. He did not drink green beer or wear a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin, but what he did was of eternal value to thousands. His name was Patrick.
He was born in A.D. 389, time of the Roman Empire’s decay: Immigrants flooded borders; national language of Latin displaced; under-funded military stretched across the world; rampant sexual immorality; unwanted babies exposed; city centers abandoned; unbearable taxes, burgeoning national debt, government jobs and welfare rolls.
His home was the coastal town of Bonavern, Taberniae, Britain. His father, Calpurnius, was a civil magistrate and a deacon, and his grandfather was a minister in the Celtic Christian Church, whose origins date from 2nd-century Roman occupation.
At age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. For six years, he herded pigs on a Slemish farm. Repulsed by the Druid’s human sacrifice, magic spells and superstitions – from which Halloween originated – Patrick committed himself to Christ and, as he later wrote: “The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief, that, late as it was, I might remember my faults and turn to the Lord my God with all my heart; and He had regard to my low estate, and pitied my youth and ignorance, and kept guard over me even before I knew Him.”
Patrick’s life became marked by intense prayer. He described an “inner monition” which he recognized as the Holy Spirit. He was led to escape to the seacoast, where he found a ship to freedom. As they left Ireland, a storm blew them to Gaul (France), where he lived in a monastery on the island of St. Honorat for several months.
Years later, Patrick had a dream, as he wrote in his “Confessions”: “In the depth of the night, I saw a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters; and he gave me one of these, and … while I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought that at that very moment I heard the voice of those who were beside the wood of Focluth, near the western sea; and this is what they called out: ‘Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.’ Their cry pierced to my very heart, and I could read no more; and so I awoke.”
Patrick left his family and prepared for the ministry in Auzerre, Gaul. At age 40, he was permitted to go. In 432, the same time Attila the Hun was pillaging Europe, Patrick crossed the icy sea to Ireland with 12 brave monks.
They made their way to the home of his old master, but found he died in a battle with a neighboring tribe. Undoubtedly, had Patrick not escaped, he would have been killed. They then went to the hall of Chieftain Loigaire, who was feasting with his warriors and Druid priests.
The messenger ran in, interrupting the festivities, and announced the arrival of these unarmed strangers. As they entered the long, smoky hall, carrying a tall cross, silence fell. The Druid priests were threatened and alarmed when Patrick boldly spoke in their own language, which he had learned while a slave. The chieftain was astonished, and not only granted them religious toleration but was baptized and donated the land for their first wooden church.
Druid opposition grew fierce, and 12 times Patrick faced life-threatening situations, including a harrowing kidnapping and a two-week captivity. Patrick demonstrated God’s power as greater than Druid magic, resulting in many chieftains being converted. Feeling inadequate due to his lack of education, Patrick used illustrations to preach, the most famous of which was the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity.
Wherever he went, Patrick left ministers. He founded 300 churches, baptizing over 120,000 converts. It was said that Patrick found Ireland heathen and left it Christian, resulting in Irish missionaries re-evangelizing Europe in later centuries.
Patrick wrote in his “Confessions”: “I pray those who believe and fear God, whosoever has deigned to scan or accepts this document, composed in Ireland by Patrick the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure, that none should ever say that it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing … but let it be most truly believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.”
Patrick died on March 17, 461. To have leaders like him today would be a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow.
William J. Federer is author of the best-selling “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations,” and the CD ROM resource “American Quotations. He is also available as a guest speaker through WorldNetDaily’s popular Speakers Bureau.”