"What difference can I make? I'm just one person!" In a world of billions, it's hard to believe that one person matters. In the coming weeks, we are reminded of One Person who made all the difference! But there have been many people, followers who were empowered by a relationship with that One Person, who had had enormous impact, not just in their own time, but for all time.
This weekend is the traditional feast day dedicated to St Patrick. The fact that it is still celebrated--sometimes too well--gives a hint of the legacy of this man. Some people are surprised that he was a real person. He was born Patricius, in Roman Britain probably about 387AD, the son of a deacon and grandson of a bishop.(Traditions of missionaries to Britain go back to the first century.) His autobiography tells of visiting the west coast of Britain at the age of 16, and being captured by slave traders and sold in Ireland. He spent about six years as a shepherd, and like David, the solitude and beauty of the land deepened his faith and dependence on God.
One day he heard a Voice directing him to a harbor, where a ship was ready to take him home. One account tells of him earning his passage on the ship by handling a shipment of Irish wolfhounds. The ship landed in France, during a time of barbarian invasion and hard times. He made his way to Italy, went to school at a monastery on the island of St Lerins, and was ordained as a priest. He returned home to Britain, but tells of receiving a vision calling him to Ireland.
He returned to Ireland as a bishop and missionary--there was already a small Christian community there. He preached before kings and all kinds of people, and a traditional story is that he used a shamrock, which only grows in Ireland, as an example of the Trinity: three leaves, but all one plant with one stem. One record says that when he arrived in Ireland, about 2 percent of the population was Christian; when he died, it was 66 percent. The church in Ireland has survived and thrived, and had a major influence here in the US as well.
One of his priorities was recruiting and training students to preach and serve. In other words, mentoring was major part of his ministry, and his students later were important to the church in Scotland, and were one of the ways the church in Europe was preserved during the invasions and disruptions of the Dark Ages. So we are all indebted to Patrick's success in transmitting his message to those who would pass it on.