COLUMN: The legacy of Patrick: Fifth century missionary

Published 7:30 am Sunday, March 10, 2024

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If you could travel back in time and talk to someone from the past, who would you choose?

Hopefully, there would be categories of people to choose from such as presidents, authors, inventors, artists, and others. Or you could select from the men and women of the Bible. But then, we’ll have an eternity to talk with them when the saints go marching in.

A special holiday marks the life of a notable historical figure that might be worthy of your consideration – St. Patrick, whose life we celebrate on March 17.

During a study on the legacy of Patrick several years ago, I learned that this humble 5th century missionary transformed the culture of his day through his devotion to God. Many of his writings have been preserved for us to read.

“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman,” he begins his personal testimony. Patrick recalls the year A.D. 430 when his hometown in Scotland was attacked by Irish warriors. He writes, “I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not…know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people.”

Patrick became a slave, forced to tend his master’s sheep during six years in bondage, much of that lonely time spent in prayer.

“And there 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.”

Patrick eventually escaped and returned home, but then went back to Ireland in his mid-40’s and travelled on missionary journeys all over pagan Ireland. One of his first converts was his former Master. Patrick spent much of his life ministering in Ireland, training hundreds of pastors and teaching the illiterate.

His ministry brought about a Celtic revival that lasted for almost four centuries. According to historical accounts, Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. He convinced the Celts to end human sacrifices to their gods and believe in the One who died for all.

Through his devotion to God, Patrick’s ministry helped preserve the faith centuries beyond his lifetime. In Jude 1:3 we read,”…it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

This statement, attributed to St. Patrick, describes this missionary’s life, “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me.”

We are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and we must preserve that legacy of faith for future generations.

— Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”