Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! St. Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration for people who have little idea about who St. Patrick was and why we celebrate. But we drink green beer, wear green to avoid getting pinched, and have a good time. I once ate some green mashed potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, and I’ve marched in a St. Patrick’s Day parade. I played a kazoo while marching with my daughter in what was called the “Louie, Louie Band.”
We don’t really know a lot about St. Patrick, but if we were asked who he was, most of us would say, “Wasn’t he the guy who ran all the snakes out of Ireland?” The only thing you would have right about that would be that he was a guy and he lived in Ireland.
There have never been snakes in Ireland. One theory is that when he was a missionary in Ireland he contended with the Druids a lot, and they usually had tattoos of snakes on their arms. Possibly the disappearance of the Druids had something to do with the removal of snakes from the island!
Let me tell you a couple of things about St. Patrick. We do have an idea there really was a St. Patrick who grew up in England but was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland when he was 16 years old. He stayed there six years before he escaped and got back home. While he was in Ireland he became a devout Catholic, and when he got back home he continued to study theology.
He had a dream of a man who came from Ireland asking him to return and help them (much like the Apostle Paul’s dream of the man from Macedonia), so Patrick went to Ireland to be a missionary there. At first he was not well received, but he traveled about and was somewhat successful with his work. However, there was controversy that swirled around him as he was accused of accepting generous gifts from wealthy women (which he denied) and accepting money for baptisms and ordinations.
What seems undeniable is that he gained significant popularity for his work there, and March 17 is remembered and celebrated as the day he died. What most of us don’t know is that, though he is called St. Patrick, the church never made him a saint!
Green on St. Patrick’s Day goes back to his use of a shamrock (a clover) to demonstrate the Holy Trinity. It was his visual aid to explain what the Trinity was and how it is to be understood. Green, the color of the shamrock, symbolizes new birth and new life, so we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. All the other green things developed on their own.
While I do not venerate St. Patrick myself, I sure do appreciate the man. Here was a guy who stayed open to where God would lead him and to what God could accomplish through him. And he was a man who was always hopeful, even during his time of being a slave as a young man. In Ireland, he was imprisoned several times because of his work, but he remained hopeful that he could be used however and wherever he was. I like that!
Nor did he especially seek recognition as best we can tell. He did what he did because he felt like it needed doing; it felt like the right thing to do to help as many people as he could. That he was never officially made a saint would probably not bother him at all — he was not seeking sainthood.
Many of us are hoping to be honored for what we do, recognized by lots of people and made to feel important. Let me tell you, all that and about $5 at Starbucks will get you a cup of coffee. When Jesus said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” he was on to something important. It has to do with being able to lay your head down at night and know yourself that the day you just lived was worthwhile and helpful. That counts the most, and St. Patrick seems to have demonstrated that well for us.
Dr. Jay Hodges can be reached at Jayhodges610@yahoo.com.