Sunday, March 17, 2013
Happy St. Patrick's Day
Today is St. Patrick's Day... a day that does not appear on a list of Christian Holidays, nor does it have any particular significance to most people other than the fact it has to do with shamrocks and the colour green.
But to me it is a day that reminds me of how one person inspired by agape love (God-love) can change his world leaving it a better place because his life touched it.
I have just finished a book called Hearts of Fire by Gracia Burnham that follows the lives of eight ordinary women who lived un-ordinary lives because they risked all to follow Jesus. Their faith was costly to an extreme but they remained faithful. To read of their experiences was a sobering exercise that left me wondering ... Could I endure what they endured ? My heart responded , "O Lord, make me like them!"
Today is a reminder to consider another man who lived an exemplary life of love and forgiveness. While many fables and untruths have been woven to create a somewhat fictional character , we do have a reliable account of who St. Patrick really was.
I hold in my hand - a book called "St. Patrick : The Real Story as told in his own words. The words written by St. Patrick in Latin have been translated into English by Jim McCormack.
To have an account in his own words is a treasure indeed, considering that Patrick died in 460 AD.
Patrick says that he felt he must write his own account of his life ..."so that my fellow Christians and my relatives would know the sort of man I am and to be in no doubt as to what I have vowed my soul to."
Patrick's story is reminiscent of the life stories of two bible characters , Joseph of the Old Testament and Paul who wrote much of the New Testament.
Patrick was born in Britain , at that time still under Roman rule, into an influential and affluent family. His father as well as his grandfather were ministers/deacons in the church.
Before he was sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his family's country estate.
He describes himself as a tongue-tied lad, with a poor education when he was captured and taken to a strange land, thrust among strangers and forced into a life of servitude.
For two months Patrick was held by his captors, and suffered at their hands . Then in Ireland Patrick was sold to a farmer who put him to work bringing animals to pasture. The long hours watching over his flocks gave him much time to think and reflect and it is here that he found his way to God and began to spend his lonely hours in prayer. His love for God grew and his relationship with God became deep and intimate. In the woods out on the mountains he experienced such joy and lightness that rain, frost, snow or the darkness of night could not dampen his spirit. The Holy Spirit, he says, took complete hold of him.
He says there is one thing he is sure of .... "Before I was humbled, I was like a boulder buried deep in the bog. Then he who is powerful came, and in his mercy not only hauled me out but shouldered me up and set me on top of the fortifications. Isn't it only right then that I shout out my thanks to the Lord for all his blessings, both those received in this life, as well as those yet to come in eternity - blessings beyond our wildest dreams?"
He served the farmer, who treated him roughly and unkindly, for six years.
Then one night Patrick heard a voice in his sleep, "You are doing the right thing in fasting; soon you'll be on your way back to your own country." Then a bit later the message came ... "Look, your boat is waiting."
Patrick was about 200 miles from a body of water, had never travelled in that part of the country and knew not a soul.
But he was not deterred and ran away from the man who owned him, and in his own words.. "I went in the power of God, who led me in the right path every step of the way, so that I was afraid of nothing and at last found that boat."
At first his request to board was refused, though he assured the captain that he would work to earn his passage. He turned, and walked away, praying as he went. But then one of the crew shouted to him to come back , there were people who wanted him.
After three days on the water, they reached dry land'... then wandered through a sort of wilderness for twenty-eight days.
Their food ran out and everyone was faint with hunger. Some men had already collapsed and left for dead at the side of the road.
When all hope seemed lost, the captain confronted Patrick and said... "So what's the story, Christian? If this God of yours is all you claim him to be, why don't you pray for us? Here we are on the verge of starvation, with little chance of coming across other human beings in a place like this."
Patrick boldly told them that they should turn in faith, with all their heart, to the Lord God for nothing was beyond him. If they would do that, Patrick told them , God would that very day give them all the food they needed !
And that is exactly what happened. That same day a herd of pigs crossed their path right in front of them and several of them were killed. Their meat was cooked and enjoyed. For the next two days the men ate, rested and regained their strength. Patrick tells how their gratitude to God knew no bounds.
Ten days later, just when they food ran out, they reached civilisation.
Eventually, he made his way back to his family in Britain. Needless to say, they were over joyed to see him, and fervently implored him to never leave them again.
But one night, in a dream a man named Victor came to Patrick. He seemed to have arrived from Ireland with a number of letters. One was headed .. "The Voice of the Irish". As Patrick read the words he thought he heard at that moment a crowd with the familiar accent of those who lived beside the Wood of Virgult all crying out begging him to come back and walk among them again.
He says it broke his heart.
He writes how the six years of his captivity had stretched him beyond what he would have thought he could endure, and when he came back to Britain he was sadly betrayed by a friend and suffered because of an almost destroyed reputation. Yet, he saw these experiences as needful for the Lord to prepare him for his life's work.
Despite the protests of his family, he resolved to turn his back on an easy life and return to Ireland as a missionary, to preach the gospel "even though this entailed putting up with abuse from unbelievers, hearing myself sneered at for being a foreigner, undergoing various sorts of persecutions, even being put in shackles, as well as giving up my free-born status so that others might benefit." Again and again the Lord saved his life - no less than twelve occasions, and rescued him from other treacherous situations.
Patrick returned to the people who had used and abused him with only love and forgiveness in his heart, pouring out his life to bring them the love of God. He never left Ireland again, serving the Lord He loved until his death.
Patrick was a humble man who wondered that God should choose such as him to serve God as a missionary. Patrick insists that it was nothing in him - but it was the Spirit of the Lord who enabled him, guided him and gave him the wisdom and grace to serve those who were lost.
So no one could say that he did anything for personal gain, he refused to take any money from anyone he served or helped.
The last words of Patrick's confession reads...
"And as regards these pages that have been written down in Ireland by Patrick, an uneducated sinner, my request to any believers and God-fearing persons who come across them, and are kind enough to read them, is this: If what I have accomplished in life has been pleasing to God, in even a slight way, then let no one attribute this to me in my ignorance. On the contrary, let them be in no doubt that it was all simply due to the grace of God. And this is my Confession before I die. "
Ireland was a pagan land before St. Patrick. At the time of his death, it was pagan no longer.
Let us remember today, to thank the Lord for those who have gone before, leaving us such great examples of lives well lived and worthy of the name Christian. May we too live in such a way that our words and deeds honour His name.