Don’t miss the importance of the green beer and the three-leaf clover!
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

When most people think of Saint Patrick’s Day, they think of green buttons, green shirts, green leprechauns, green hats, green hair, green three-leaf clovers and yes, green beer. On Saint Patrick’s Day, nothing is too gaudy or outlandish. In fact, the more gaudy green you go, the more you are considered to be in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day!

However, as green and gaudy as all those things might be, they really have nothing to do with Saint Patrick. Yes, Saint Patrick was a real person, and the Catholic Church canonized him as a real Saint, but who was this Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick’s real name was Maewyn Succat. He was born in Scotland to a wealthy family in 387AD. Celtic raiders in Britain captured him at the age of 16; they took him to Ireland where he became a slave. He was forced to be a shepherd of pigs for several years. It was during this difficult time as a slave that Saint Patrick was exposed to the harsh climate of Ireland and nearly starved to death. He used this time to observe and learn the customs, rituals and language of the Celts in Ireland.

Saint Patrick eventually escaped from his masters and made his way back to his homeland where he studied theology and became a bishop. Saint Patrick had a vision and felt a call from God to return to Ireland to share the gospel. He returned to Ireland in 432AD and began to share the Gospel using his knowledge of the customs, rituals and language of the Irish people. In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In the life of Saint Patrick, God truly did take those harsh days as a slave and turn them into good. After returning to Ireland, the place of his slavery, Saint Patrick preached and served the people for 30 years. It is estimated that more than 135,000 people accepted Christ under his ministry in Ireland, and he planted over 300 churches. He also discipled and trained up over 350 bishops who multiplied the gospel even more. Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461AD, so we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17.

One of the things that made Saint Patrick so effective was that he was able to take many of the Irish-Celtic symbols and give them Christian meaning. The most prominent of these symbols is the Green Shamrock, better known as the three-leaf clover. He used the three-leaf clover, which was considered a sacred symbol to represent the Trinity-the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

So, it was Saint Patrick who brought the gospel to Ireland, but he also was the one who brought alcohol to Ireland. Yes, the saint who brought the gospel to Ireland also introduced them to alcohol. This is why green beer is also a part of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.

In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is a National Holiday where people don’t work. Instead they spend it in worship and family gatherings. In the United States, Irish Soldiers held the very first Saint Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 1762. Today most people simply celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with no real understanding of who Saint Patrick was or why we celebrate the day.

In Romans 10:14, the Apostle Paul wrote, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

So on this day of honoring a Saint who rolled up his sleeves and got involved with those who needed to know the love of Christ, consider how you might be able to make an impact. When you see the sea of green on March 17, let it remind you of the need that that our world has to know the forgiveness of Christ’s love. Use the symbolism of the three-leaf clover to relate the holiday to your faith. Pinch yourself and wake up to the spiritual mindset of those you encounter as you walk through your day.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

John Mark Caton, Ph.D