Saint Patrick of Ireland was one of the most significant and effective missionaries in the history of the Church. And yet, how much do we really know about this man and the legacy he left the mission world? This St. Patrick’s Day I hope we can restore some of the true significance of celebrating the memory of St. Patrick by considering three things we can learn from his story.
- His humility. “I, Patrick, a sinner.” These opening words of St. Patrick’s Confession (his autobiography) should be a shock to the less-than-pure nature of the way most people celebrate this day. It also is an extreme understatement of all that could be said of Patrick, but this was the first thing he wanted people to know about him: he was a sinner who desperately needed a Savior.
- His need for grace. After establishing his sinfulness, Patrick continues “the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And He watched over me before I knew Him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and He protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.” Fully aware that he was in no position to earn good standing before God, Patrick wanted us to recognize that his salvation and the preservation of his life was entirely God’s doing.
- His mission. As a result of the love and grace God had poured out on him, Patrick concluded that there was only one thing to do with his life: “Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess His wonders before every nation under heaven.”
Much more could be said about Patrick’s story and legacy—his time spent as a slave, how God called him to ministry, how He blessed his work in Ireland, how God used his spiritual children to preserve the Bible (along with much of Western culture) during a long period of turmoil all over Europe—but in these three things I believe we catch a glimpse of his heart. This is the heart of a missionary.