A Missionary Saint
What color will you wear on Monday? You didn’t forget St. Patrick’s Day? I expect to see a majority wearing various shades of green in support of this Irish holiday. If not you might get pinched. But not everyone wears green on purpose. If you’re a Protestant from Northern Ireland, orange is the proud color. And it’s catching on in parts of this side of the Atlantic.
My high school history teacher first told me about the Irish colors. I learned that the majority of Irish Catholics proudly wear green, but Protestants donned orange, finding inspiration from the winner of the Battle of Boyne near Dublin back in 1690. That’s when William of Orange (William III), king of Great Britain, defeated the Catholic King James II. The “orange” in William’s name actually refers to a southern French province, but the color reference stuck. That’s why you see orange in the Irish flag, symbolizing the Protestant minority juxtaposed to the Catholic green. So the color you wear on St. Patrick’s Day embodies your church affiliation and civic pride.
I believe the Irish patron saint, St. Patrick, would be surprised by the color distinction today. Patrick, from Romanized Britain, was not an Irish native. Scholars speculate Patrick was born as early as 385 in what is now northeast England. He was reared among the Celtic “Britons,” but his family was Christian. We know his father was a deacon and grandfather a priest in the early Christian church in Britain. Initially, his parent’s faith didn’t resonate with Patrick. Some historians record a “wild side” in his teen years. But that was about to change.
Life forever changed for Patrick at age 16 when he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland in servitude for a Druid tribal chief. Amid painful conditions, God did an amazing thing during his captivity, just as he did for Joseph in Genesis, thousands of years earlier. God captured Patrick’s heart with the good news of the gospel he knew from childhood. Patrick turned from self serving to God honoring. For this first time he believed the truth claims of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died and rose again to pay the penalty for his sin debt. And it altered his world.
Fortunately, Patrick escaped after six years, and we have St. Patrick’s Day today. He returned to his British home and prepared for the ministry as a priest where he led a parish for nearly 20 years. But this was not enough. Patrick felt a Divine urgency to return to Ireland as a gospel missionary, not an easy task for one who was 48 years old, already past a man’s life expectancy in the fifth century. Beside, Ireland in the 400s was pagan and often hostile to their Briton neighbors. Patrick was determined. He knew the language and culture after six years in captivity. He had a cause - to reach the Irish with the good news of God’s love amid a sincursed world. And it did not matter if the native people were considered “pagan barbarians” or not.
Patrick went to Ireland on faith with a team of a dozen missionaries. They did not go to civilize the Irish tribes or convert them to a Romanized culture. They approached tribal leaders for permission to set up nearby camps. From these small camps they met human needs, cared for the sick, fed the hungry and shared the gospel message. It took time, but it worked. Soon Irish tribesman embraced the Christian gospel lived out in these Christian missionaries led by Patrick. Now there were indigenous Christians among the Irish sharing the same message of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
We still honor St. Patrick today, but let’s do it right. Yes, enjoy the day with friends, family and great fellowship. But remember the faithfulness of this gospel missionary before there was Catholic green or Protestant orange. Find pride in your color, but recall what’s really important - God’s grace in your life on St. Patrick’s Day. So what color will I wear on Monday? Army ACU green of course!