Turn your scars into stars, just like St. Patrick
By R.A. Mathews
He said, “A crusty old leprechaun who drank green beer.”
That’s how my friend Jack answered me last week. I had asked, “Who is St. Patrick?” Another said, “Irish dude.” The rest threw their hands in the air.
Google “St. Patrick” and the mystery deepens—no two accounts are alike. Seriously. Virtually the only reliable information about the man and his Ireland is in Patrick’s two writings. He was born and reared a wealthy nobleman of Britain. In roughly 410 A.D., when he was 15, Patrick sailed the Irish Sea—as a slave.
Britain belonged to Rome at that time, but Roman legions had withdrawn to fight barbarian invaders. That left Britain defenseless. Patrick writes that he was one of thousands captured by Irish raiders while at his parents’ country home. Apparently, he was then sold to an Irish warlord.
Patrick’s father was a deacon and his grandfather a minister, but Patrick writes that he didn’t believe in God until he was “humbled by [daily] nakedness and hunger.” He recounts praying hundreds of times a day during his six years of slavery, and says “God protected me and comforted me as a father does a son.”
Because of that intimate relationship, when Patrick hears a voice in his sleep saying a certain ship will take him home, he’s off. Patrick safely travels 200 miles to the designated port, and the ship is there, about to leave!
But the captain refuses to take him.
Patrick then does what he knows best, he prays. Before the day is out, the captain sends word for him to return, and Patrick sails with them. Once they reach land, the crew almost starves. The captain yells, “O, Christian,” asking Patrick to pray to his God.
Patrick tells them, “Turn…with all your heart to the Lord my God, to whom nothing is impossible…”
They agree and Patrick prays. He writes that when a herd of swine appears, the sailors capture and eat them, giving “hearty thanks to God.”
It’s God who will lead Patrick back to Ireland. The country is pagan, worshipping idols and maybe even offering human sacrifices. It’s rumored the Irish still posted skulls on stakes and wore them on their belts. That’s perhaps what Patrick means when he writes of Irish “abominations.”
Missionary work in Ireland was like present-day Christian missionaries with radical Muslims. Patrick writes of Coroticus, apparently a warlord, who would slaughter Christians following their baptism and sell Christian women as sex slaves.
Determined, Patrick appoints ministers, saying that “everywhere there should be clergy to baptize and exhort…” He thereby effectively becomes the first bishop of Ireland.
This humble man, who repeatedly referred to himself as “illiterate” and “a sinner,” writes a clear understanding of Christianity. Legend has it that Patrick used a shamrock, showing how one flower with three leaves explains the trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Even so, converting the pagan Irish took more than desire. The missionary Palladius went to Ireland, ahead of Patrick, but Palladius wasn’t successful—probably because he couldn’t speak the language or understand the warlord system. Patrick knew both from his early painful time in Ireland.
Remember St. Patrick, not as a crusty old leprechaun, but for the six years of slavery, nakedness, and hunger that led to a great victory of faith. Patrick is credited with bringing Ireland to Christ. He embodies Robert Schuller’s famous words, “Turn your scars into stars.”
This weekend, amid the corned beef and parades, examine the worst moments of your life. Perhaps, like St. Patrick’s, they could become stars for God.
© 2018 R.A. Mathews The Rev. Mathews is the author of “Reaching to God: Great Truths from the Bible.”