A Lenten Discipline: Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day
by Cecilia Russell
Will I be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day during Lent? Absolutely!
Some people have big celebrations on Valentine’s Day, or Cinco de Mayo, or even the Fourth of July, but I grew up in an Irish family and St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, was our big day. I can understand why you might not want to “wear the green,” drink beer, and decorate with four-leaf clovers and leprechauns, but St. Patrick’s Day is part of my Lenten observance each year, no matter where it falls in relation to Easter. How does that even make sense?
The person we refer to as Patrick was born in Britain around 385 AD to a family of wealthy landowners. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by an Irish raiding party who sold him into slavery in Ireland. Patrick and his family were believers, part of the church in Britain. When his parents returned from a business trip in London, they learned that their only child and many of their servants were gone.
Patrick fasted and prayed day and night for six years that God would set him free. In a dream, God showed Patrick the way of escape, though it took him months to return home to his family. Patrick had barely arrived when he felt called to return to Ireland with the gospel. It took years of preparation and prayer, but Patrick lived out Matthew 19:29 when he left his father and mother and land for the sake of the gospel. Not only that but he and those he trained to come with him risked enslavement or death almost daily. They lived in poverty—sleeping on the ground or in small huts, often cold and hungry and soaked by the legendary Irish rain. When addressing an Irish king who threatened him with death, Patrick said:
But my King, Jesus Christ, told me to return here to bring you the good news of His kingdom. You see, it was my God who sent me to Ireland in the first place. He sent me here to learn your language and customs so that later I could return as His messenger to the Irish. And now I cannot keep silent about Him, for He has bestowed so many favors and graces upon me.
Patrick continued to fast and pray, this time for the salvation of the Irish. Because Patrick was faithful to his call, the majority of Ireland was converted to Christianity and many went out as missionaries themselves. The clans that make up my family—Anglicized as Whalen, Murphy, Lynch, Carroll and Graham—were from the very places Patrick lived and served. Because he brought the gospel to Ireland, Christian beliefs were handed down through many generations. Though I’d heard only parts of the Gospel and had religious tradition mixed in, it was the basis for my conversion to true faith in Jesus.
Patrick told his followers, “It’s important that no one give any devotion to me that should go to Christ.” I couldn’t agree more. March 17th is a day to reflect on God’s mercy towards me, a sinner who was as far from God as my pagan ancestors. Believers for centuries past have been faithful in preaching and (Saint) Patrick’s Day is my reminder, like Romans 10:14-15, to go and do the same.
Think about how you were brought into the Lord’s family. Give thanks to God for how he used others to bring you to a place of faith in him.
- How might the Lord be calling you to deliver the Good News to others?
- In what ways are you seeking to grow in the Word?
- In what ways do you need to trust the Lord to empower you through his Holy Spirit?
- To whom is God sending you (or has already sent you) to proclaim the Good News?
- How are you striving to go deeper in Christ and further in mission?
Reference: Let me Die in Ireland: the True Story of Patrick by David Bercot