Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What We Can Learn From A Renegade Saint

Satellite image of the British Isles, excludin...Image via Wikipedia
Let's play a word association game. I say "St. Patrick," and you say ________?
Unless you know some of St. Patrick's real history, you probably thought of things like "green" and "shamrocks" and "drove out the snakes." You know what? St. Patrick himself wouldn't have thought of any of those things. So what's the truth about the man we've come to know as St. Patrick?

He wasn't Irish, for starters. The son of a nobleman in Roman-ruled Britain, Patrick grew up in a time when Roman rule in the British Isles was coming undone. Pirates and marauders roamed the coastlines, looting and pillaging the towns and villages for good and slaves. Patrick was kidnapped by a band of these thugs in his teens and taken to Ireland as a slave.

To the Romans, and the Brits, Ireland was considered one of the most barbaric places on earth. Patrick, who writes that he didn't know God at all at the time of his capture, was a slave shepherd in the harsh Irish countryside. Like King David of the Old Testament, Patrick encountered the God of all creation during those solitary hours watching over a flock of sheep. Later he went so far as to say his capture and enslavement was the hand of God working in his life to save him.

Patrick spent six years in captivity before he escaped and return to his homeland, where he was welcomed with open arms and presumably could have returned to his comfortable life. But God had other ideas.

In a dream he heard the voice of the Irish people, calling him back to that wild and dangerous country to share with his former captors the Gospel of the Christ.

Little Irish SheepIt's interesting to note Patrick's greatest fear was not of death, or capture, or even returning to the hardships of a rough country full of violent people. His insecurity had to do with his lack of education and the requirements for becoming a deacon and, later, a bishop. Encouraged by another dream from the Lord, he endured the required training and eventually became a bishop for the Catholic church in Ireland.

But even though he met the requirements, Patrick was a renegade at heart. He frequently found himself at odds with his superiors because his methods of ministry, and his ideas about who should be ministered to, were unorthodox. Patrick violated missionary practices of his day by going to the barbarians.

The church at the time simply saw no point in reaching out to them, saying: "What place would God have in a savage world?" The church sent him to Ireland to minister to the few Christians who were already there, not to share the message of Christ with the island's barbarian inhabitants. But Patrick's heart had been supernaturally softened toward the very people who had sold him into slavery and kept him a captive. He ministered to them not out of pride, or haughtiness, or a "holier-than-thou" attitude, but from a sincere love for them and concern for their eternal souls.

The legends and myths that surround St. Patrick's life and ministry pale in comparison to the reality of his accomplishments. St. Patrick was the first known missionary to a culture and a people outside the realm of the Roman Empire. Up to that time, where the Roman army went, the church followed. While the Irish never submitted to the Romans, they did submit to the gospel, brought by a humble bishop, a former slave, who sought not to convert the former barbarians into good Roman citizens through Catholicism, but to convert them to eternal life in Christ through personal relationship with a saving God who loved them.

What does this all mean for you and me as believers? In that renegade spirit of St. Patrick, let's honestly examine our hearts today, right in the middle of the green stuff and the bad Irish accents.

Are we following St. Patrick's example, or the example of those Roman Christians who'd labeled everyone outside of their comfort zone as unreachable - or worse, unworthy - of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord? Remember, the Irish barbarians were accused (and probably guilty of) human sacrifice, cannibalism, incest, fornication, murder, rape, theft, drunkenness, idolatry, demon worship. What do you think those leprechauns really were, luring folks to chasing rainbows for the promise of a pot of gold?

Are there individuals, or maybe entire people groups or cultures you've written off as "unreachable" the same way the Irish barbarians were discounted by the Roman Christians of Patrick's time?
  • Your in-laws?
  • Your child's schoolteacher?
  • Democrats? Republicans? Politicians in general?
  • Illegal aliens?
  • Emo or Goth teenagers?
  • Environmentalists?
  • The criminally insane?
  • Wiccans? "New-agers"?
  • Gays and lesbians?
  • People with tattoos and guys with long hair?
  • Hollywood stars?
  • The denomination down the street?

I don't know about you, but my heart attitude needs an adjustment when I consider some of the above groups. Just being honest with you. Seriously, if you don't have any issues with any of the groups above, please pray for the rest of us!

How can we let go of these prejudices in order to minister (serve) these individuals and groups the love of God and the message of Christ? 

What person/group might you consider reaching out to after knowing what St. Patrick did for the Irish?

Saint Patrick via Wikimedia
St. Patrick's Grave via Wikimedia
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  1. Nikki, OH MY!!! What a wonderful post to invigorate me as I go to Barnes & Noble for the second day of a St. Patrick's Day push!

    JUST THIS YEAR I learned more about this "renegade" saint who returned to a land of personal enslavement for the name of Christ!

    Thank you.
    Oh, that people group?
    I have a list of what I call OIKOS, my community circle. It's pretty eclectic! Writers, yeah, we're different!!!


  2. First I have to look up "emo" and then I'll get back to you on this.

  3. Great post, Niki. I had no idea about Patrick being enslaved there first. Only God can soften the heart so much toward people who have used someone so badly. Thank you so much for sharing. I needed this today.

  4. Loved this post. Thanks Nikki. I read a great novel called Brigid of Ireland about one of the early Irish converts.

    I think the Muslim people group are probably the "Irish" of today. But our God is big enough to reach them as well.


  5. I didn't know any of this. Well, except for the shamrocks, driving out the snakes, and painting your face green on Mar 17.

    But then here in Saskatchewan, we paint our faces green and put hollowed out watermelon shells on our heads whenever the Sask Roughriders take to the football field as well. :)

    So thank you, Niki for telling St. Patrick's story. I love learning about history and especially when it's setting me straight on a famous day.


  6. Patti, I must know what OIKOS means! : ) While you are at B&N today take a big breath of that lovely book and coffee-scented air and think of me, okay???

    Sorry, Deb, I forget that some of us have escaped the frightening realm of teenage culture! It gives me hope for my survival, though.

    Lisa, agreed. It reminds me of the story of Nora Lamb (sp?) going back to China after she escaped. That has to be God. I thought it was interesting Patrick had more trouble with the church than he did with the barbarians, though.

    Dina, I completely forgot to include the Muslims on my list, there, and I had them foremost in my mind when I was reading about Patrick! You're right, for MANY Christians, the Muslims have not only become "unreachable" they're considered the enemy... And then we hear about these instances of Jesus appearing to them in dreams and realize that God loves them as much as he loves every other deceived, lost, confused, person on the planet!

  7. Anita, at first I felt horribly disappointed that the legends (esp. the snakes and shamrocks) were only legends, and then when I read the REAL story, I realized how much more powerful the truth about St. Patrick is! Such an inspiring saint.
    Hollowed-out watermelon shells???

  8. Well yeah, Niki - they don't fit unless you hollow 'em out first. LOL

    To see what I mean, go here

  9. Awesome post, Niki. Just awesome. Isn't it true, we sometimes judge others as probably being uninterested in the Gospel, or unworthy, or whatever, and we don't even try to get to know them, much less offer them living water. No matter who a person is or what they look like, they're thirsting for it! I've been many things at different times in my life: a kid with blue spiky hair, a nerd, a nobody and a somebody, and I always craved the love of God, even if I didn't know it was what I needed. Thanks for sharing Patrick's example as one who served God and shared with all, no matter how "disposable" others deemed them.

    Patrick is one of my favorite saints, and it has not a thing to do with McDonald's Shamrock Shakes (though they're mighty tasty) or wearing green. Tomorrow I'll be posting on another Celtic saint, Brendan, and it's hard for me to think of Brendan without Patrick because God has used their stories as powerful tools in my life, especially my prayer life. Patrick didn't just believe in the Trinity, he wore his belief like armor: "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the Same, the Three in One and One in Three!" It's part of my morning prayer.

  10. So, what you're saying is that St. Patrick would be wishing everyone look past him and to Christ -- and skip the leprechauns and green beer. Gotcha.

  11. Wonderful post! I often ask the lord who can I love for you today? The answer to my heart is always the least lovable person or people.

  12. Niki, you can always count on me to bring up Muslims. Last week I had dinner with a former terrorist who is now the humblest, sweetest born again believer you could ever meet. Plus, I spent yesterday in the recording studio where the musicians were working on a song about a Muslim martyr that I wrote the lyrics for. I feel God pulling me more and more in this direction. I'm curious to see just what he has in store.

  13. Okay Anita, the watermelon helmets are cool. Much cooler than the gopher mascot. : ) And people think we're "extreme" if we show any emotion about God!

    Susie, I can't wait for your St. Brendan post... and I'm going to add that to my prayer journal, "Three in One, and One in Three," it's just so PRETTY! BTW, I want a picture of you with blue spiky hair...

    T.Anne, we just prayed that very thing today at church, and my prayer group had even more people to list, like single mothers, and folks on welfare. If we don't show the love of God to the "disposables" as Susie put it, then who will?

    Dina, I think it's a fear factor that keeps us from reaching out to the Muslim people. We can't see beyond the propaganda to the people inside. You are blessed to have that insight into their culture.

  14. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??? Close your ears Saskatchewanians so you don't hear this next part...
    Niki - You don't like Gainer the Gopher??? But he's practically the icon for our province! Hordes of little kids and grown men follow him wherever he goes. Women love to be cuddled in his furry arms. It just ain't summer if there isn't a gopher sighting. Heh.

  15. Niki, fascinating post! I'm learning so much from you all this week :-)

  16. Niki, this was truly inspiring. I confess I didn't know Patrick's story until reading this just now. I loved T.Anne's idea of loving the least loveable person.

    Patrick's going back to teach the people who had enslaved them reminds me of this sweet man I used to know. He was a soldier in WWII, captured by the Japanese and held prisoner. When the war was over, he married this wonderful Japanese woman. I always thought that was so amazing that he was able to see past the culture of the people who had tortured him, and look at her with love. They had a long and happy marriage and he cherished her until the day he died.

    How amazing it is to be able to look beyond the hurt and just look at people with love.

  17. Suzie,
    Glad you found St. Patty interesting! I remember being amazed when I first learned his story. Makes me wonder how many other hidden tales are out there...
    : )


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