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16 March 2012

St Patrick: proclaiming liberty to the captives

St Patrick: proclaiming liberty to the captives

by Paul Meneely

No matter where you are in the world this weekend, from Belfast to Bangkok, you would be hard pushed to avoid some reference to Maewyn Succat. Not sure of the name? Perhaps you’ll know him better as Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick. Saturday marks the day to commemorate the life of a man who died on 17 March 461 AD and it has been celebrated for more than 1,000 years. Before the festivities begin, may we take a minute to enforce why this man left such an impact and point out some important lessons and parallels for our world today.

If ever there was a man surrounded by myth and legend it’s St Patrick. From expelling ‘snakes’ with his flute to spawning a craze for shamrocks, the myth of the man has spanned the history books. However, there was much more to the man than the myth. Indeed, of far greater substance was his mission, an element we have perhaps all too quickly forgotten when we dye our rivers green. 

No doubt you know the story well but this familiarity conceals a brutal truth. As a teenager St Patrick was kidnapped by traders and sold as a victim of human trafficking into forced labour. That was in the fifth century yet more than 1,500 years later we still hear this all too familiar story. While we deplore and fight against the sickening crime of human trafficking we pray for more people like St Patrick. Following his escape and return home, he heard the call of God on his life to return to the people who had originally enslaved him. Jesus told us: “He [the Father] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). St Patrick experienced this freedom and then set about freeing his captors. This mighty man of God reflected one of Jesus’ most important instructions: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Let’s stop and consider for a second what our response would be in his position. Having successfully escaped would we even listen, let alone respond to God’s invitation to return to our captors, preach the word and revolutionise history forever? This is a hard question to consider but if not, why not?

St Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of a man who changed history, who evangelised a nation, and as a result has ensured countless generations have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Yet today it is more known for Guinness, wearing green and signifying it’s time to cut the grass again. Considering the life St Patrick led, perhaps we need to refocus the theme of our celebrations from such trivialities. So this weekend may we suggest you discover more about the man, not the myth, thank God for his life and unwittingly the impact he’s had on yours and ask God to place a similar desire upon your heart for your nation.  Where better to start than with St Patrick’s breastplate prayer:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.