6 Reasons I Claim Patrick (If Protestants Pick Saints)

St. Patrick picture of woman atop Croagh Patrick mountain in Ireland
Author, June 2015

I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unlearned [rustic] and least of all the faithful and utterly despised by many. —Saint Patrick, Confession One

Sometimes I feel less-than. When I do, it’s often because I’m painfully conscious of how uncultured I am, keenly aware of my rusticitas. Like Saint Patrick was.

Cousins and friends have earned Ph.D.’s and my sister-in-law and nieces have learned Latin. While some of them matriculated at Wheaton and Moody, I enrolled at state schools. I’m far from the elite. 

I grew up in the country. I milked goats and pulled weeds. Sometimes still I feel inferior when my manners fail me. I’m clunky at small talk, I use the wrong fork, and I’m not at all polished or chic. 

In short, I’m rustic. Something like Patrick. 

My History With Saint Patrick

I’m a fan of Patrick. Ever since I spent seven timeless days in County Clare, where many reside who bear my maiden name, Considine. I am still smitten by the Irish people, their language, and their patron saint.

A few years ago I introduced a grateful saint. The year before that, I shared bittersweet confession about my selfish choice to climb Patrick’s holy mountain alone. Then there was one about our common reason for writing and the post about our mutual love for the sun.

Patrick, a sinner, a simple country person, unlearned and the least of all believers.  Those are the first words of his Confession. That’s how Saint Patrick introduced himself.

This humble simplicity is what first drew me to Patrick. But not everyone knows Patrick from his own words.

Will the real Saint Patrick please rise? 

Many think of Patrick a the bearded, mitered, banisher of snakes and worker of miracles who roamed the Emerald Isle with a staff in one hand and a shamrock in the other—to teach the Holy Trinity, you know.

That Patrick is not real. 

Patrick was not a leprechaun. Nor was he a legend, although legends about him abound.

Patrick did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose that wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’: its language postdates him by about three centuries . . . He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did.

Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, 82

What we do know of St. Patrick comes through two ancient texts: his Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. You can access them here. He wrote both, handicapped, as it were, by his late-learned, unrefined Latin skills.

From them, we discover that Patrick was not Irish but British by birth. Magonus Sucatus Patricius was born to a good Christian family around 390 Roman Briton. He admits, though, that he was not a very good Christian growing up.

Irish raiders kidnapped the teen-aged Magonus, or Maewyn, and took him as a slave to Ireland.  Alone in that “strange, wild land,” the rustic renegade Patrick turned to the God. While shepherding on the Irish hills, he came to know the Lord as his Shepherd.

Patrick’s Visions And His Calls

Six years a slave, he heard a voice call, “Come see, your ship is ready.” Heeding, he fled and reached a port perhaps 200 miles away. At first denied passage, he went away and prayed. Before he even finished his prayer, a sailor shouted, “Come quickly, for they are calling you.”

Patrick reached mainland Europe a few days later with his pagan shipmates and made his way through France to a monastery in Italy. Some years later, he returned to home to his parents in Britain. They begged him never leave again.

Alas, there soon came a life-changing vision in which a man came to him with countless letters from the Irish, 

[A]nd I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.

Confession, ch. 23

They were calling for a holy boy who had grown into a humble man.

Why Saint Patrick Is My Guy 

Here are six reasons why-1600 years hence-the patron saint of Ireland still endears himself to this rustic, middle-aged, Midwestern, Christian mama.

1. Patrick felt his rusticitas [lack of learning and culture], but kept pressing on to proclaim Christ. 

Patrick was uncultured, at least when compared to intellectuals and Church leaders of his day. While his peers were studying Latin and Greek, Patrick was herding sheep. His speaking and writing skills were not refined. I’ve read that he confused words like Helios (sun) and Helias (Elijah). I may have had typos. So I have sympathy.

If I had been given the same chance as other people, I would not be silent, whatever the reward. If I seem to some to be too forward, with my lack of knowledge and my even slower tongue, still it is written: ‘Stammering tongues will quickly learn to speak peace.’…

The Spirit is a witness that even what is of the countryside  [rusticity, backwardness] is also created by the Most High! So I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure.

Confessions, ch. 11-12

Patrick wasn’t an elite or erudite, but he had a story to tell. That story trumped his rusticitas and kept his inferiority from becoming a complex. We have a story to tell, too. We were once like a stones lying deep in the mud until the powerful One pulled us out. 

Will our stammering tongues speak? 

2. Patrick endured many hard times, but overflowed with thankfulness. 

In an age when the shortest wait and the smallest mistreatment sets some off, when videos won’t buffer in three seconds and three minutes in the drive through is too much, we would do well to follow Patrick’s thankful example. 

So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim. He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties…This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end.

Confession, ch. 34

Will you resolve again to continually offer a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name? It’s what Patrick did. He presented himself to God, a living victim

Do we, in everything give thanks to God

3. Patrick loved Ireland’s green hills, but so much more, the lost souls who dwelt among them.

He knew better than many of us know how to engage a pagan culture. Saint Patrick knew how to be in the world and not of it. To converse and engage. Saint Patrick, I suspect, was winsome and listened.

His example challenges me. Because too often I stand off and let my rusticitas and bumpkin-ness excuse my distance. I’m not smooth and witty enough to enter into their world. But Saint Patrick pitched his tent beside chieftains, to befriend and convert.

Then he’d do it over again,

…Fishing well and with diligent care, as the Lord commands, “Go and make disciples of the nations….” spreading wide the net so that a great throng might be captured for God. How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ.

Confession, ch. 40-41

Do we pitch our tents in among lost souls?  

4. Patrick knew God’s Word and took it to heart. 

Saint Patrick was called a homo unius libri (a one book man); but with that one book, Patrick was extremely familiar. His writings are crowded with Bible verses and phrases, probably quoted from memory. God’s words peppered his words. Patrick is my patron saint because I want to write, and to talk, like that.

Author Richard Fletcher, says Patrick was soaked in the Bible. Are we so soaked that we make and explain our choices through its lens? Is our blood Bibline? Spurgeon said of Bunyan, Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.)

I am not trying to judge myself, since every day there is the chance that I will be killed, or surrounded, or be taken into slavery, or some other such happening. But I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places, as the prophet says: “Cast your concerns on God, and he will sustain you.”

Confession, ch. 55

Patrick knew the Bible and took it to heart. He quoted the Psalm back to himself. He cast himself on God.

Do you know see your world through God’s word?

5. Patrick struggled with his sin but relied on God’s grace to fight it by faith. 


Patrick knew life was a duel with the flesh till the death. He felt the pull of enticing things which would pull him away from his Lord. 

I know I cannot trust myself as long as I am in this body subject to death. There is one who is strong, who tries every day to undermine my faith, and the chastity of genuine religion I have chosen to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. The flesh can be an enemy dragging towards death, that is, towards doing those enticing things which are against the law. I know to some extent how I have not led a perfect life like other believers. But I acknowledge this to my Lord, and I do not blush in his sight. I am not telling lies: from the time in my youth that I came to know him, the love and reverence for God grew in me, and so far, with the Lord’s help, I have kept faith.

Confession, ch. 44

Do we give up, give in, give way to sin? Or with Patrick, do we daily fight the good fight by faith?

6. Patrick saw thousands of splendid Irish sunsets, but he worshiped the one true sun. 

We bow to created things- to fitness and fashion, to athletics and entertainment, to food and comfort and praise – over the Creator. From the top of Croagh Patrick (pictured above) I saw the same sun setting from the precise point that Saint Patrick saw it set. In Irish mist, he may have been a sun stalker too. In any case, his warning rings true.

The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who worship that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever. 

Confession, ch. 60

Do you worship the true sun, who rises with healing in His wings?

Not the Work of an Ignorant Man (Alone)

Patrick’s Christianity was simple, direct, practical, as earthy as it is mystical, not so much Roman Catholic as baseline Christian, and not so much Irish as truly universal (The Wisdom of St. Patrick, Greg Tobin). Patrick was at once brave, bold pioneer-missionary and humble, servant-shepherd of God’s Irish flock. He was zealous and honest, ever aware of his own short-comings, and forever God’s grateful debtor. 

In his final Confession, Patrick prays,

… for those who believe in and fear God. Some of them may happen to discover this document and read its words, composed in Ireland by an unlearned sinner named Patrick. May none of them ever say that whatever little I accomplished was a work of this ignorant man alone. No, rather, know this: that it was a gift from God and that it occurred only for God’s good reasons. And that is my confession before I die.

Confession, ch. 62

Irish history is a dramatic tale of turning from idols to serve the living God. It’s a remarkable true story of a pagan world turned totally upside-down, converted. An unlearned, rustic sinner named Patrick had an awful lot to do with it.

That is why this 21st-century Protestant claimed a humble rustic as a patron saint. That is why I celebrate Patrick today.

This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the strong man boast in his strength or the rich man boast in his riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: 
That he knows and understands me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Saints in the Land & 1 Thing Saint-Friends Do

David and Jonathan Good Friends

 

As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
Psalm 16:3

What delights your soul? Is it the saints you know? Do you even know any saints? And, if you do, do they make you glad?

Or does this sound like silly talk? Like such words about saints could only come from a  super-spiritual poet living long ago in a faraway land?

Saint-Friends Who Stick Closer Than Brothers

It’s not silly talk. It’s real and daily- this saints-are-so-lovely talk. I know this because in the last week I’ve had- not one, not two, not three- but four different friends tell me, as it were, that sometimes blood isn’t thicker.  That it depends on whose blood; specifically, if it’s saints’ blood.

All four confided to me big hurts inflicted by blood. A sister whose words are sword thrusts, a brother whose whose aloofness wounds, another brother whose lifestyle choices take him to a distant land (my friend misses him), and a father who waited until my friend was 42  to tell her, “I love you.” 

All four also shared how a Christian friend- a saint- had helped them through. How, for example, when a blood-brother wound was raw, my friend texted a saint-friend to pray and then her friend not only prayed but showed up 30 minutes later to whisk my friend away to a happier place. 

Christian friends may be more loyal than an  unbelieving brother. Since brotherhood is one of the tightest relationships we know, a  friend who sticks closer than a brother is a life-giving gift, indeed. (David and Jonathan’s friendship is a great biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship.)

Proverbs 18:4 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And if the friendship is between saints, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that water’s sometimes thicker.

Just who are these saints?

Saints literally means, “holy ones.”

But if the term’s still a bit murky, don’t worry. You’re not alone. One source says the word “saints” has almost completely lost its original meaning,

[T]hat is, of being set aside for the exclusive ownership and use of the Triune God. Very few people in the Christian Church today would consider themselves to be “saints”…Unfortunately the original meaning of the word “saints” has largely fallen into disuse.

But if the term’s still a little fuzzy, a quick survey of Scripture makes it clear: saints are simply believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all believers are called saints, even when their character is “dubiously holy.”

Paul uses the term “saints” – the plural- to refer to a group of Christians about 40 times. In fact, Paul addresses almost all of his letters to “the saints” in that particular place. (See 2 Thess. 1:10, 1 Cor. 1:2, Romans 1:7, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2.) Only once does Paul refer to a solo “saint.” That’s at the end of Philippians where he writes, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”

So saints are not a special class of Christian. They are all those called by God’s grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Saints are in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us. Saints are believers. Saints are “just” Christians, running the race by grace through faith, in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us

Still, we’re prone to put people like Mother Teresa and Apostle Paul on pedestals and think they’re super-human. We ought not.

C.H. Spurgeon explains, 

Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation…They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.

I crossed paths with some saints last week. Their names were Holly and Hannah, Jim and Jen, Christin and Cindy and Shari and Stan. They live with Jesus, they live for Jesus, therefore they are growing like Jesus. 

The saints in my land are doing this. They are growing more like Jesus.

They’re growing to:

Saints in my land are growing thicker skins and softer hearts. They set their hearts to seek God.

That’s why the saints in my land make me glad. Saints remind me of Jesus. 

Saint-Friends Strengthen Our Hands In God

In 1 Samuel 23:16-18, we find the best description of a best saint-friend a guy—or girl—could ever have.  David is running for his life from a jealous king Saul.

Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.

Whatever else Jonathan did to knit his soul with David’s he did this: he strengthened his hand in God.

We don’t use the phrase much. Maybe instead we say: He encouraged me. He gave me courage. She helped me hope in God.

We walk away from saint-friends like this feeling stronger. Feeling like we can look that difficult person in the face and take on the tough circumstance. We don’t feel so afraid. Jonathan reminded David of God’s promise—that you shall be king. 

We, too, are strengthened when our friends remind us of God’s unbreakable promises. 

Saints Point Us To The Right Rock

That is what Jonathan did for David. They stabilize us.

As David Guzik has noted

Jonathan could not rescue David, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t give David all the answers, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t stay with David, but he strengthened his hand in God.

My best saint-friends are those who don’t ignore my pain or minimize my trials. And they seldom solve my problems. In fact, I wouldn’t call any friend, even my husband, my rock.

But they do point me to the rock that is higher than I. That is what the best saint-friends do.  

Those nearest him are nearest one another.

It’s no wonder, then, that believers like this are closer to us in than even our non-believing families. That’s the oneness of the body of Christ. That’s the intimate, eternal relationship that we have with the saints.

That’s why the Psalmist cannot help but say, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”

Or as S. L. Johnson said, God’s the center. Those that are nearest him are nearest to one another.  Saints take joy in saints.

David did this too. He took delight in the saints he knew. “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,”  (101:6), he said. And “I am a companion of all who fear you,” (Psalm 119:63). The saints were David’s delight.

Saints make saints glad.

Do the saints make you glad?

David says that there’s one type of person who gets him stoked and fired-up and makes him really, really glad. It’s saints. It’s the holy ones who treasure God.

So I repeat, do the saints make you glad? Do you cherish God’s people?  And do you delight in them or merely endure them?

If your honest answer is merely endure, I have two questions for you.  They’re from this sermon by Pastor John Piper.

  1. Do you know any Christians?  I mean radical people who lay down their lives for Jesus because Jesus means everything to them and they are servants of the world and God has broken them free from their love affair with the world and their ego and power and comfort.
  2. Why would it be that you, a professing Christian, would find more joy in people who find no joy in what is your primary joy?

Hard hitting, those. But it makes sense: If we treasure God, we treasure those who treasure God.

These are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.

The “Sweetness of the Saints” Test

Piper explains how Psalm 16:3 can be,

When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people.. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.

Saint-friends are sweet to us because God is sweet to them. That’s why this saint stuff matters. Because it is one way we can measure our relationship to the Lord. It’s a simple test, really.  For, as James Boice explains, Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.

So  I’ll ask again: Do you love other Christians? Do you cherish the people of God and seek to be near those who treasure your Lord?

Do you delight in the saints in the land?

The new men are already here, dotting the earth- recognisable if you know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity