In truth, St. Patrick may be only a legend, not a real person, but his story offers us some colorful tips for living the Christian life.
Another legend of St. Patrick holds that he personally chased all snakes out of Ireland. This story has a symbolic meaning: when Patrick converted Irish people to faith in Jesus Christ, the effect was to drive out the devil- the serpent. Christ and his followers fulfill God’s curse on the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Perhaps the best lesson St. Patrick and the early Christian missionaries to Ireland teach us is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ through authentic, one-to-one friendships.
According to legend, Irish raiders captured the teen-aged Patrick from his home in the Isle of Britain. In Ireland, he slaved for cruel Irish masters. It was during his time as a slave that Patrick began to be serious about his own Christian faith. After seven years of slavery, he was able to escape and make his way back to Britain. But his real adventure was just getting started: he felt God’s call on his life and became a priest. Then he felt that God was calling him to return to Ireland— the same place where he had suffered as a slave— to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.
By the grace of God, Patrick was able to forgive the people who had enslaved him and abused him: he came to see them as his brothers and sisters in God’s love. Patrick and other early Christian missionaries to Ireland lived as friendly neighbors among the native Irish, daily demonstrating their faith through their kindness, honesty, and holy living… rather than ‘preaching at’ their audience. Today’s formula for their approach goes something like this: Make a friend; be a friend; lead your friend to Christ. The missionaries’ ‘Celtic method of evangelism’ succeeded, and Ireland’s devotion to Jesus stood as a beacon of hope to the world throughout the “dark ages” of Europe, for hundreds of years afterward.
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This coming Sunday is known as “Palm Sunday.” One week before Easter each year, we remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem as people lined the streets, waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!” Give a thought to what “hosanna” means. In ancient times of war and oppression, ordinary folks looked for a ‘strongman’ to rescue them: “hosanna !” means “save us !” Just like many foolish people today, some of them imagined that a powerful leader would solve their problems. Few, if any, saw that Jesus’ only power was from God, and that his victory lay beyond the cross.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”