Each year on March 17, Irish people the world over celebrate the feast of St. Patrick. His own life seems to fade out of the picture now, with the emphasis on a St. Patrick's Festival, accompanied by much light-heartedness, greenness and Guinness. A big coup for Ireland seems to be the “greening” of iconic buildings elsewhere, such as the Sydney Opera House. However all this misses the whole point of St. Patrick's significance.
Think about it. Patrick, son of a Roman citizen in Wales, and himself a Roman citizen – one of the greatest claims to glory in the ancient world – is somehow captured by pirates off the west coast of England, bound with ropes, brought to Ireland and sold as a slave. In the year 432. As an educated young man he would not have been used to real hardship, but he found himself out in the fields in cold, bare countryside, minding sheep. He did not know where he was and could not speak the strange language he heard all around him. He had no way of communicating his whereabouts to his family. He was habitually cold and half starved. He was lonely, but determined to survive somehow, and escape if at all possible. He found himself praying constantly, night and day, and having endured six years of slave labour, he heard a voice instructing him to travel to a certain place where a foreign boat had anchored, and so he escaped. The journey wasn't easy, however, and Patrick was captured a second time, but only for two months, after which he was able to return to his family. Despite the trauma of his captivity he returned later as a bishop giving his heart and soul and all his strength tor the rest of his life to preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God to the Irish, including the High King. This is the man we celebrate on March 17. A great Christian apostle in the tradition of St. Paul.