Did you know St. Patrick turned water into green beer and lured all of the snakes out of Ireland with nothing but a plate full of corned beef and cabbage?
If you didn’t, don’t feel bad — those things didn’t actually happen. In fact, most of the traditions and folklore that are now part of St. Patrick’s Day have nothing at all to do with him. St. Patrick was actually kidnapped from his home in Scotland and sold into slavery in Ireland as a teenager. He didn’t become a Christian until after he escaped from captivity and studied to become a priest in a French monastery. (The shamrock thing is true, though — he associated the three leaves of the shamrock with the Holy Trinity.)
So why, you must be thinking, do we even celebrate this guy? Why is he even a saint at all?
Being a missionary during sometime in the 400s might not seem like an impressive accomplishment to us. We 21st-century Christians do much of our witnessing in air-conditioned churches or on social media. Most of us don’t make a habit of walking among filthy, impoverished and disease-ridden neighborhoods in search of people who have yet to hear the name of Jesus.
This was a daily reality for Maewyn Succat, who took the name Patrick (Latin for “father of the people”) when he became a bishop. He traveled all over Ireland to spread the Gospel and build churches and schools. And he did it all with a smile on his face. His humility, engaging personality and knowledge of the people and Ireland’s social structure are what made him so successful as a missionary.
We live in a time in which churches spend thousands of dollars on state-of-the-art sound and entertainment systems to keep congregations engaged. Podcasts, hip music, dazzling websites and Godtube show the world that the Church is still relevant in a tech-savvy world. And yet, church attendance, especially among young people, continues to dwindle. Maybe we 21st-century Christians have something to learn from guys like St. Patrick after all.
You don’t need to have a church complex the size of a small city, huge flat screen televisions and a smokin’ worship band to change your community. Those things are nice to have, but all you truly need is to ask God to work through you — and then have the faith to believe he will do it. (Try this: Next time you want to see the awesome power of God at work in your life and the lives of those around you, just pray, “Lord, lead me to someone I can help today.”)
Keep your eyes and your heart open for those in need. It could be an elderly widower who just needs some help grocery shopping or a single mom in need of a babysitter so she can have an afternoon of “me time.” Maybe it’s time to comb through all of the stuff piled up in your laundry room and finally sort through all of those old sheets and blankets so you can donate them to a local homeless shelter. You may be surprised at just how much we take for granted on a daily basis, and how many opportunities we are given to share our faith every day.
For Christians, sharing our faith has never really been 100 percent “safe.” It’s true that we don’t have to worry about being beheaded because of that “I Love Jesus” bumper sticker, but it can still be a little scary to share your faith with a non-Christian. (And why not? No one likes the feeling of rejection.) This is why it’s so important to build those relationships first.
St. Patrick didn’t wander around Ireland handing out pamphlets and blurting out Bible verses everywhere he went. He learned of the needs of the people and looked for ways to serve them. He let his faith shine and allowed God to work through him. By the time of his death, Ireland was almost entirely Christian.
This St. Patrick’s Day, if you want to skip the search for the pot of gold and really honor the memory of Ireland’s patron saint, start with a simple prayer asking God to work through you. Then be on the lookout for the people God leads to you. You may not be your community’s patron saint, but your faith will make a difference.
Who has God led you to help today?