Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SAINT PATRICK FACTS FROM AN IRISH MISSIONARY


I received an email today from Kevin Fitzgerald who is a GO! missionary in Dublin, Ireland. He sets the record straight about St. Patrick. I thought it was kind of cool getting the facts direct from Ireland!

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"Beannachtai La Fheile Padraig duit!"

That’s how we say "Happy Saint Patrick’s Day" over here in Ireland. A proper response might be something along these lines: "Agus beannacht leat ‘La Feile Padraig’ fresin. Go raibh mile maith agat."

Of course: Don’t ASK me to tell you what it means!

It’s funny… On a day like today, we often have the tendency to throw around the idea of a "saint" very casually, without much thought.

And yet, from God’s perspective, ANYONE who has put their faith in Jesus Christ is considered a saint! That’s right! You don’t have to die in some special way, or perform so many good deeds, or be nominated by church leaders, or even have any of your body parts paraded around and prayed to and venerated at shrines…

Our English word "saint" comes from the same root word as "sanctified," and it simply means to be "set apart." 1st Corinthians 6:11 says: "You were washed…you were sanctified… you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

In fact, the entire letter of 1st Corinthians is addressed to "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus CALLED SAINTS (1 Cor. 1:2)" [the words "to be" were inserted into this verse by later translators].

In fact, this word is used all throughout the New Testament to refer to followers of Christ (Here’s a bit of trivia: Acts 9:32 and 9:41 is the FIRST place we see Christians being referred to as ‘saints’).

How often we hear people say things like, "Well, I’m no saint!" But – according to scripture – if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, yes you are! You’re a saint! Even if your name ISN’T Simon Templar (for those of you younger than 35, you probably won’t see the humour).



The reality of it is – for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ – we’ve been bought, washed, cleansed, forgiven, and set apart for God’s purposes through the precious blood of Jesus Christ! We’re sanctified… we’re saints!

I hope today – more than anything – THAT is what you’ll celebrate! For, EACH OF US, like Patrick before us, have a special "call" by God to be involved in the work of building up His eternal kingdom.

For any of you who may be interested, I’ve included a sort of essay below on Saint Patrick. As I’m here in Ireland, having been called to this land by the Lord, I was just thinking of you all on this day, and thought I would write.

So, if you’ve got a few spare moments, I encourage you to put on some nice traditional Irish music… wear something green… eat some corned beef and cabbage… have a good strong cuppa’ tea… and celebrate the life of our fellow brother in the Lord, Patrick!

God bless!

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Contrary to popular folklore, St. Patrick never chased the snakes out of Ireland. Nor do we REALLY know whether or not he EVER used the shamrock to teach converts about the Trinity. Furthermore, it will most certainly NOT be Patrick sitting in judgement over the Irish on Judgement Day! However, what we DO know about the remarkable man we so commonly refer to as St. Patrick is far more interesting than many of the legends that have grown up around him.

Of course, the fact that we know ANYTHING about him at all is as great a miracle as any that later traditions would ascribe to him. Patrick is LITERALLY the ONLY individual we know from fifth-century Ireland or England. Not only do no other written records from Britain or Ireland exist from that century, but there are simply no written records at ALL from Ireland prior to Patrick's!

Interestingly enough, scholarly debate about the actual authenticity of Patrick’s writings is almost non-existent. Experts agree that the two examples of his writing that we have are clearly written by the same man, the man we know as Patrick.

These two brief documents, Patrick's "Confession" (a wonderful read, by the way) and his "Letter to Coroticus," are the basis for all we know of the historical Patrick. His "Confession," because its purpose was to recount his own call to convert the Irish and to justify his mission to an apparently unsympathetic audience in Britain, is not a traditional biography. And the "Letter to Coroticus" (who was apparently an Irish warlord whom Patrick was forced to excommunicate), is a wonderful illustration of Patrick's prowess as a preacher, yet doesn't tell us much by way of traditional biography either.

The uncontested – if somewhat unspecific – biographical facts about Patrick are as follows:

He was born ‘Patricius’ somewhere in Roman Britain to a relatively wealthy family. He was not religious as a youth and, in fact, claims to have practically renounced the faith of his family.

While in his teens, Patrick was kidnapped by marauding invaders from fifth century Ireland and taken back TO Ireland, where he was enslaved to a local warlord and worked as a shepherd until he escaped six years later. It’s been suggested that – not since Paris absconded with Helen of Troy – has a kidnapping EVER changed the course of history so much!

After returning to Britain, Patrick had a dream, in which a man named Victoricus – whom Patrick had known in Ireland – appeared to him, bearing countless letters. One of these letters he handed to Patrick. The letter was entitled "The Voice of the Irish." And, upon just reading the title, Patrick heard a multitude of voices crying out to him: "Holy boy, we beg you to come and walk among us once more!" So moved by this was he, that Patrick was unable to read further and woke up. But the dream recurred again and again. Eventually Patrick told his dismayed family of his plans to return to evangelise Ireland and soon began preparations for the priesthood. Patrick was so certain that he had been specifically called by God to do exactly what he did—return to the land of his captivity and convert the barbarians to Christianity—that – as one author puts it – his "Confession" leaves even the modern reader little room for doubt."

It is not clear exactly WHEN he made it back to Ireland, or for how long he ministered there, but it was definitely for a number of years.

By the time he wrote his "Confession" and the "Letter to Coroticus," Patrick was recognised by both Irish natives and the Church hierarchy as the official Bishop of Ireland.

By this time, also, he had clearly made a permanent commitment to Ireland and intended to die there. Scholars have no reason to doubt that he did.

Though Patrick's writings tell us little in terms of names and dates, they do reveal much about Patrick the man. Traditional biographies of Patrick don't really do him justice. He is portrayed more as a "cookie-cutter saint," if you will. But, in his own "Confession," a few things really stand out about: the genuineness of his faith in Christ, his humility, and his strength.

Author Thomas Cahill (of "How the Irish Saved Civilization" fame, and former religion editor for Doubleday) writes: "The Patrick who came back to Ireland with the gospel was a real tough guy. He couldn't have been anything else—only a very tough man could have hoped to survive those people. I don't mean to say he wasn't a saint—he was a great saint—but he was a very rough, vigorous man."

Noel Dermot O’Donoughue, O.D.C., writes in his 1987 biography "Aristocracy of Soul: Patrick of Ireland," that Patrick was "his own man." When Patrick received the vision that called him to evangelise the Irish, he didn’t hesitate, despite the fact that in 400 years no one had taken the gospel beyond the boundaries of Roman civilisation. "He goes his own way following his own [calling] and divine 'responses,'" says O'Donoughue, even though by doing so he is challenging the structure and ordinances of the Church he served.

As well, Patrick would have to overcome MANY obstacles to carry out his calling.

The first (and obvious) obstacle would be his education. The six years Patrick had been enslaved in Ireland put him permanently behind his peers in terms of his classical education. His Latin would always be poor. Later in his life, when he used Latin less frequently, it was practically unintelligible at times.

Despite the fact that Patrick would be self-conscious about his literary limitations to the end of his days, he was not uneducated. One suspects, however, that he was primarily self-educated. His use of biblical quotations, Cahill says, "is far more accurate and appropriate than many of the Fathers of the Church."

"It's hard to grasp just what an accomplishment it was," says Cahill, when Patrick decided to "willingly go back to the barbarians with the gospel." Cahill explains: "He had to figure out how to bring the values of the gospel he loved to such people. These were people who still practised human sacrifice, who warred with each other constantly and who were renowned as the great slave traders of the day. This was not a simple thing. This was before courses were given to missionaries in what is now called inculturation—how to plant the gospel in such a culture," Cahill says. "No one had ever even thought about how to do it; Patrick had to work his way through it himself."

But, return to them he did! And, when he finally arrived in Ireland, Patrick proceeded to treat the barbarians with the respect implicit in his calling. In fact, from the outset, Patrick felt both humbled and honoured that God has selected him to convert the Irish (I can relate to that!). Apparently, he never doubted that he would be able to do so.

Patrick even came to see his own kidnapping as a grace, Cahill says. From the time Patrick sets off on his 200-mile journey to his "waiting ship," he was convinced "once and for all that he is surrounded by Providence and that he is really in the hands of God. And that is what gets him through the rest of his life, and it is what enables him to do the incredible thing that he does by returning to the barbarians." Cahill concludes that, had Patrick never been kidnapped to begin with, it seems quite likely that it would have been decades, perhaps even centuries, before Ireland was converted.

And, the closeness to God that Patrick walked in IN NO WAY diminished as the years progressed. "Patrick felt the presence of God in every turn of the road," Cahill says. "God was palpable to him, and his relationship to Him was very, very close." Cahill even likens it to the relationship in the Bible between Jesus Christ and God the Father. "It is very familiar and comfortable, and that is how Patrick saw God at work in the world."

The inadvertent results of Patrick’s conversion of Ireland were equally astonishing and long-lasting. As Cahill makes the strong case in How the Irish Saved Civilization, it was Patrick's conversion of Ireland that made possible the preservation of Western thought through the early Dark Ages by the Irish monasteries founded by Patrick's successors. When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick. So much is owed to the faithful monks who worked tirelessly throughout those years to preserve Christian thought!

There is no question that Patrick gave the Irish himself—knowingly, willingly, joyfully, proudly. He did this despite the fact that, even at the end of his life, "after 30 years of missionary activity," Cahill says, "he knew he was still living in a very scary place. You don't change people—people who offer human sacrifice and who war on one another constantly—you don't change them overnight."

But change them he eventually did. And the example of his life—his courage, his intelligence, his compassion and his incredible, indomitable faith—made the lives of even those living 1,500 years later, just a little easier.

And so it was that a young Briton named Patricius died an Irishman named Patrick.

Blessings!

Kevin & Amanda
CrossPoint Dublin
209A Forest Hills
Rathcoole, County Dublin
Ireland
Landline: 011.353.1.401.3823
Mobile: 011.353.87.776.8150
Email: crosspointireland@yahoo.com
Website: www.crosspoint.ie

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P.O. Box 651
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"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."Ephesians 2:8-9

1 comment:

deanclaninjapan said...

Good info! Even here in Tsukuba, there is a St. Patricks Day parade... We are going this saturday....(its a tad late.. I know) There will be Irish music and dancing... kinda funny to find in Japan!