We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.
Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that the Roman Catholic church has recognized these individuals as saints (though we don’t have a similar reaction to St. Peter and St. Paul). But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.
Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity (He used the shamrock to teach this essential Christian doctrine.) is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:
I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)
In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.
For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham.
A couple of very helpful, short articles about Patrick have appeared on the web in recent days.
- Russell Moore: An Evangelical Looks at Saint Patrick
- Michael Haykin: Patrick: Inspiration for the Mission of William Carey and his Friends