When most people think of St. Patrick's Day they think of wearing green, Ireland and green beer. But who was this St. Patrick and why do we celebrate a day in his honour?
It surprises a lot of people to discover that Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was born in Roman-occupied Britain in 390 AD. When he was 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold to an Irish king who put him to work as a shepherd.
In his loneliness he looked for comfort in the Christianity he'd heard about growing up. His solitude gave him time to focus on the relationship with the God he'd never had time for. In his book Confessions, Patrick said he heard God telling him "Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look—your ship is ready." Risking everything, he walked 200 miles to the coast and boarded a waiting ship for home.
In Britain, he studied and became a minister, and eventually a Bishop. Thirty years later he returned to Ireland as a missionary, understanding the challenge he faced. The Irish of the time were barbarians - human sacrifice was common and they hung heads of victims as trophies from their belts.
Patrick was undaunted and eventually saw the entire country converted. In so doing, he may also have saved the future of the Western world. James Cavill writes in How the Irish Saved Western Civilization, that it was the newly converted Irish who preserved the important writings of history after Rome fell to the barbarians in AD 406.
A wave of missionary monks left Ireland for the European mainland and spread the Judeo-Christian values which provided the framework for the society we, in the west, know today. So the next time you think of St. Patrick - be thankful, he's more than just a good excuse to get drunk. Happy St. Patrick's Day!