What St. Patrick can teach us

Last year the United Methodist Church homepage featured this article on what we can learn from the ministry of Saint Patrick, the famed missionary bishop to the Irish.  Patrick's feast day is (as everyone knows thanks to beer advertising) March 17, which is this coming Sunday.  Contrary to popular belief, Patrick was not born in Ireland, but was born in Northwest England.  He was raised as a Christian in Roman Britain but was kidnapped as a youth and made a slave in Ireland.  After escaping from slavery, he was led by the Lord through a dream to seek ordination in the Church and return to the pagan Irish as a missionary to set free from spiritual slavery the very people who had once held him captive. 

Being a Saint of the British Isles, Patrick has had a special place in the memory of Anglicanism (out of which we Methodists spring) and therefore of English-speaking Christianity more generally.

The time of Patrick's ministry (late 4th - late 5th Centuries) puts him squarely in the period of the Early Church Fathers, though (in my experience) he is not often mentioned in Patristic studies or included in Patristic commentaries.  This is likely because, while Patrick left us some spiritual writings (his auto-biographical Confession, some letters, and the prayer called "The Breastplate (Lorica) of St. Patrick") he wrote no no Biblical commentaries or theological treatises, and his ministry work was on the margins of the ancient world, far from the intellectual centers where most of the theological debates were playing out that would shape Christian orthodoxy. 

His collected writings fill only about 40 pages of appendices in The Wisdom of St. Patrick.  As a side note, his Confession makes not mention of driving the snakes from Ireland, but I suspect that story actually arose as an allegory - the snakes representing pagan religions - that was then (mis)interpreted literally (as happens with other ancient and spiritual texts!).

As the article on the United Methodist website points out, Patrick found creative ways to communicate the Christian gospel to the Irish people. This year maybe we can do more than drink a green beer in honor of this great saint - maybe we can instead follow his example in finding a creative way of sharing our faith with others. 

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