By Dave Holland
The teenage boy didn’t have a care in the world playing on the Welsh hillsides overlooking the Atlantic. His affluent and devout Catholic family made his life comfortable even by fifth century standards. But his docile life was rudely interrupted one day as marauding Irish pirates captured him and sold him into slavery to a Celtic warlord. Such was the inauspicious beginning of that boy, later to be named “Patrick.”
He felt his life was over as he slept out in the damp Irish hills tending his master’s sheep. Patrick age 16 when he was enslaved on an island considered so evil that ancient Roman maps had an arrow pointing toward Ireland with the phrase “demons be thar.” The emerald isle was thought to be inhabited by barbarian wizards and warlocks. After several years Patrick remembered the faith of his parents and cried out to God from those pastures. God heard him and gave him a dream as he slept under the stars.
Patrick dreamed he was walking down valley paths for days until he came to the ocean. He saw a particular boat that would carry him home to his family in Britain. When he awoke he saw the path and began walking without food or water and not knowing his way in this foreign land, but he followed his dream. He walked more than 100 miles until he came to the ocean and saw the ship in his dream. He negotiated with the captain so he could work onboard for passage to his homeland. Eventually, he arrived home starving from the difficult journey.
Family and church welcomed home the Patrick whom they thought was long dead. He would later answer the call into the priesthood and serve in a French monastery for about 20 years. But God would interrupt Patrick’s life once again and put compassion in his heart for the formerly hated Irish. Patrick’s thoughts often drifted to the cries of children on the west side of Ireland, weeping for him to come back and “walk among us.” He frequently petitioned Bishop Germaine to send him as a missionary to Ireland. Finally, the 40-something Patrick was driven by compassion to the people he once loathed.
In 433 A.D., Patrick and his band landed on the pagan western shores of Ireland where other missionaries had not only failed but ran from in fear for their lives. By the time of Patrick’s death in 461 A.D., the majority of Ireland would call Jesus Christ, Lord.
Patrick was a simple man having lacked education during the critical years of his youth.
Yet, he had a courageous faith that did not cower before the Druid priests and tribal chieftains. He loved the Celtic people with a God-given passion, and he spoke their native language learned during his captivity. He ministered to these earthy people by using illustrations found in nature, such as the three-leafed clover demonstrating the Trinity. Evidence suggests that he not only won people’s hearts by his preaching but also by inviting them to eat at his table with him.
The beautiful prayer known as “St Patrick’s Breast-Plate” reflects his faith: “I bind to myself today, God’s Power to guide me, God’s Might to uphold me, God’s Wisdom to teach me, God’s Eye to watch over me, God’s Ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech, God’s Hand to guide me, God’s Way to lie before me, God’s Shield to shelter me….” May God also bless you with a love for God and a heart of compassion for people. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
Dave Holland served as a pastor for 38 years and currently lives in Destin with his wife Jonie. He can be contacted at his website at DaveHolland.org. He is a capable preacher and available to speak at churches, retreats, and conferences. His new book, Every Day Jesus, is also available on his website.