Last weekend kicked off the celebrations, and for those of us in Chicagoland St. Patrick’s Day (week) is an even bigger deal. (Irish-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Chicago, and everyone within 50 miles becomes Irish-proud in March.)

kermit and jimmy

The Chicago river is dyed green (for the rest of the year), McDonald’s dyes milkshakes, and if you’re not wearing green today someone will probably pinch you. But what’s the deal with St. Patrick?

Who Was St. Patrick?

patrick for stu minPatrick wasn’t even Irish.

St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain (the island, but while it was still Roman territory). His father and grandfather were both leaders in the Catholic church, but Patrick was not a believer as a child.

At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish pirates (really) and taken to Ireland. He was kept as a slave for six years, working mostly as a shepherd. During his captivity, and his time in the pasture, he came to know God and became a Christian. One day, God told him that he would soon return home. A short time later, God told him that his boat was ready.

Patrick ran away to a port, found a boat headed for Roman Britain, and convinced the captain to let him go along. He returned to his family in his early 20s, and continued to study theology and his faith.

A few years later he had a vision, calling him back to Ireland as a missionary.

In obedience, Patrick went back to the druids and pagans who enslaved him, to share the gospel of forgiveness. 

He baptized thousands of new believers, ordained priests for ministry, started a monastery for nuns (some of whom were formally very wealthy women), and led princes to faith in Jesus.

Patrick refused to accept money for baptisms and ordinations, which put him on uncomfortable footing with local culture. He was suspect for not accepting their gifts, even the ones offered by kings. He was placed on trial, although we don’t know what for, specifically. He suffered other persecutions such as arrest, robbery, and physical violence.

He spent 40 years as a missionary in Ireland until his death on March 17, 461 A.D.

Why Shamrocks?

three-leaf-cloversThe shamrock is a customary symbol of St. Patrick and the holiday (and, eventually, all things Irish), because of a popular legend about his ministry.

In pagan Ireland, three was a special number. They had many gods associated with the number three. The story (first written down in the 1700s, but understood to be much older) goes that Patrick used their divine understanding of the number three, and a three-leafed clover, to explain the triune God—three persons in one Godhead. Not a bad sermon illustration, Pat.

How to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

All of which means that today is definitely a day worth celebrating—whether or not you’re Irish. Wear green. Get a shamrock shake. Tell people, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” Just remember what it’s about: a man who gave his life to God as a teenager—under very difficult circumstances—and then had the courage to follow God back to his captors to teach them about God’s love.

So maybe an even a more appropriate way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (in addition to dyed food products, of course) would be to forgive someone who has hurt you or used you, and share the love of God with him/her.

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youth pastor elgin ilAlexis is an Associate Editor and Researcher by day, and a Redefined Ministry Servant by night. When she’s not in front of a keyboard (which is almost never), she likes playing with her toddler, reading, and eating too much Indian food.