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Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day: Saints or Sinners?

Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?

What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?

The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.

Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent,  St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland  March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.

After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly.  He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.

There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.

Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.

Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.

Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.

We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.

As Gal. 4:6-7 says:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.

I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

©2012, Marcy Alves

re-posted 2013

Related Post:

St. Patrick Was a Protestant!!

Avenging Our Enemy?

I apologize to my readers, this is a long blog article and the content different than most of my blogs. Please bear with me and read to the end – I don’t want to do this in two parts. Thank you.

With news of the recent demise of long-time #1 radical terrorist, Osama Bin Laden and speculation about what may or may not result from the act of taking him out of the picture, both public and social media have been pervaded with opinions about whether or not the United States had a right to cross national borders to eradicate the long time enemy of the free world.

I’m sure we don’t have to restate here the long record of Ben Laden’s personally directed acts of aggression against the USA in particular over the years, nor the terrorist training camps under his tutelage, direction and encouragement.

Some people feel our Navy seals had no right to go into Pakistan without express permission to deal with this radical terrorist. Others feel it was okay to go in, but that Bin Laden should not have been killed, especially since he was not armed. Some have expressed the notion that they would have rather seen him “rot in jail”. (While I don’t know how many U.S. citizens would have become hostages in barter attempts for his release had he been captured alive and imprisoned, that’s an understandable human response.)

Ironically, several people have been invoking the “Christian love” angle (Jesus did say to love our enemies and pray for those who dispitefully use us) as a reason Bin Laden should not have been killed. They say that since we are a “Christian nation” we should be following the Bible. I take issue with that line of thinking for several reasons.

But before I go into that, it’s important to actually know what the Bible teaches about such matters.

In a Facebook dialogue that referenced “actions consistent with” the Bible there were two important issues that surfaced:

1. That the “God of the Old Testament” is somehow a different God than the one Jesus reveals in the New Testament.

Sorry, but it’s the same God – just another side of Him that we are exposed to in a brighter light in the NT.

My husband often shares about his grandfather who was a police officer in Ludlow, MA. His grandfather lived near David’s parents and would often come home for lunch. David would wait for him on the stone wall that edged the yard the family shared with granddad. As a little boy, David was excited to wait for his grandfather, who always treated him kindly – placing his police hat on David’s head and asking him if he had been a good boy – sharing lunch with him, etc. Later, as a young man,  David discovered that his kind grandfather was one of the toughest cops in the precinct – sometimes brutal with law-breakers. Two sides . . . same man. Perceptions of Sam Brown differed depending upon whether you were a law-breaker or a family member.

Often God is portrayed as angry and vengeful in the OT, but if you look carefully, you will also see a God of love there. In the NT, in Jesus the”love” side is easier to see. That’s the side the “family” sees.

2. The issue of Biblical ignorance: When I mentioned a teaching from the book of Romans, one dialogue participant thought it was in the Old Testament. Many of us argue that our beliefs are from the Bible, God’s Word, but we don’t take the time to find out what it really says. We can’t even find our way around in it.

I stated earlier in this missive that I take issue with the idea that the U. S. is a “Christian nation” and with the debate over what the military should have done with Bin Laden. Here are some of my reasons for taking issue:

First, we are not a “Christian nation”. Didn’t our own President announce that in his acceptance speech – or sometime shortly thereafter? You just have to look around to see overwhelming evidence to support this perspective. Our government is not run on truly Christian principles. For example, the abortion debate, defining when a baby is a human, homosexual issues, assisted suicide, roadblocks to free expression of religious beliefs in public places, secularization of education, etc.

Second, God gave the government – whether secular or Christian – the right to bear the sword against evil doers. Paul’s epistle to the Roman believers was written at a time when a pagan, secular government was in control. After exhorting the believers (in Romans 12:17-21) to not repay evil with evil, to do what is right in the sight of all men, to be at peace with everyone, and to not take their own revenge, Paul then restated Jesus’ teaching about how believers should treat their personal enemies – feeding them and giving them drink.

Yet Paul gives the following instruction to the Christians, just after, in Rom. 13:1-5:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”  (NIV)

And third, the issue of crossing the border of a sovereign state to deal with Bin Laden, without informing the government of that sovereign state (Pakistan) is a moot point; it has long been the stance of the U.S. government that anyone who harbors terrorists will be treated as a terrorist – you don’t tell terrorists what your military plans are. Pakistan has been accepting the generosity of the USA, yet scorning us by offering asylum (officially or unofficially, it matters not so long as someone in authority knew about it) to a world-recognized terrorist. You just can’t buy real friendship anymore.

Aside: And how is it that we are giving billions away to impoverished countries, yet we are trillions in debt? I think we are borrowing from other countries who are not giving their money away to help others, nor would they do so. Something is wrong with this picture.

Human government will never be able to solve the human problem of sin, nor control the mechanisms of the real enemy – whose chief purposes are to kill, to steal and to destroy.

And even Christian love will never solve the problem of terrorism, a religion fueled by hatred, the greed of the human heart, hatred, bitterness, revenge, or abuse of individuals or specific genders.

Are we as Christians to use what influence we still have in a democracy to influence our governments policies and laws? Yes. We are to be salt and light. But . . .

There will never be a perfect government until the Lord Jesus returns to the earth – humans can’t do it without the royal reign of Christ – no matter how loving we are. Until Satan and his angels are destroyed in the lake of fire, the earth will not be at peace. As my husband pointed out in a recent post, entitled “Bin Laden’s Death: Mission Behind the Mission, the real warfare is in the heavenlies – what’s happening on earth is just a shadow of the “real world”.

Thanks for reading and considering another “viewpoint”. Feel free to share with me some of your thoughts – but a little shorter than mine, please. 🙂

©2011, Marcy Alves

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