My Friend Patrick and Me
It may seem odd to call someone you’ve never actually met a friend, especially one who died more than 1,400 years ago. But that’s exactly how I describe my relationship with Patrick of Ireland, mainly because I played a small part in bringing him back to “life.”
For me, it’s been a lifelong friendship. I was born one long-ago March 17 in New York City, where St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with unsurpassed gusto. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade along Fifth Avenue is one of the world’s largest, and dates back more than two centuries. I’ve seen many of those parades and even had the thrill of marching in one.
Growing up in a family of largely Irish descent, I heard many tales about this saint on whose feast day I’d been born, tales of driving snakes from Ireland and of using the shamrock to symbolize the Trinity. As I grew older, I began my own studies of Patrick, and discovered a life surrounded by mystery, and obscured by myth and folklore.
It’s well known that Patrick was not Irish, but had been taken to the Emerald Isle by pirates when he was very young. But no one knows exactly when that happened, nor when he was born. And, though he spent most of his life in Ireland, the date and place of his death and burial are also unknown. What “evidence” there is, however, leads one to conclude that his life spanned the period between the latter part of the fourth century and the earlier years of the fifth century.
Why then is March 17 significant in Patrick’s life? Nobody knows! One typically Irish bit of whimsy tells of two factions, one claiming Patrick was born on March 8th and the other insisting on March 9th. So, the story goes, they added the two numbers together and settled on the 17th. The Irish notoriously being known as tellers of tales, it may be as good an explanation as any.
Although Patrick is generally accepted as the Roman Catholic Patron Saint of Ireland, Catholic authorities agree he was never formally canonized, but is called “Saint” by popular custom only. In fact, no documentation exists that ties Patrick directly to Roman Catholicism in any capacity. As for snakes and shamrocks, they make charming tales, but there’s no evidence to support them.
Given all this myth and mystery, how do we learn the truth about Patrick? Well, as I discovered to my great joy and delight, there was one eyewitness, one man who could testify to the facts – Patrick himself! It was my pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dr. D. James Kennedy, who, in 1976, directed me to the only solid evidence about Patrick that exists – his own writings.
There are two such documents, his Confession and his Letter to Coroticus. In each, he describes himself as “a sinner, most unlearned, and utterly despised by many.” Nevertheless, his writings make it abundantly clear that he was a dedicated student of the Word of God. Though relatively brief, they contain passages from more than 20 New Testament books, and about a dozen from the Old Testament. His Confession clearly reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul, and reveals his unswerving devotion to his Lord.
Patrick, in his humble way, refers only briefly to the thousands who, through his ministry, came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus and, typically, he gives all the glory to God. He writes: “For I am very much God’s debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me.”
(to be continued on 3/20/18)