Saint Patrick’s Day is not about getting drunk.
Thousands of years ago, Ireland was a wild land filled with fierce, tribal people known as the ancient Celts. Much like the other early peoples of Europe, the Celts were devout pagans, animists who worshiped nature along with thousands of false gods and goddesses. Ruled by spiritual leaders who were fascinated with the occult, known as the Druids, the pagan Celts of Ireland were in bondage to sin and dark superstition. In a complicated series of events that can only be interpreted as God’s providence, the Irish Celts were finally reached by the truth of the gospel, thanks to the bravery and faithfulness of a young man named Maewyn Succat, whose name was changed to Patrick by an Irish chieftain he served. Patrick was a Britonic Celt from what is now modern-day England. He survived being kidnapped by Irish pirates, who sold him into slavery for six long years.
During his time in Ireland, Patrick realized his need for God’s salvation, and asked the Lord to come into his heart and save him. Being kidnapped and forced into slavery in a foreign land had greatly humbled Patrick, who was formerly rebellious against his Christian parents in Britain. It is said that Patrick used to pray one hundred times a day, acknowledging his constant need for God while he fulfilled his daily tasks. He eventually managed to escape Ireland, returning home to safety. However, Patrick was plagued by his memories of the pagan Irish people, burdened by their desperate need for a Savior. Following God’s call, Patrick chose to return to Ireland, determined to release his former captors from the slavery of sin. Amazingly, Patrick’s message of God’s truth was well received, and quickly spread throughout all the land of Ireland.
However, the Irish people’s memory of paganism persisted for centuries to come.
The Celtic people of Ireland willingly converted to Christianity, in spite of stubborn opposition from the pagan druid priests and chieftains. However, since people are naturally slow to embrace change, the Irish people transferred many elements of their pagan beliefs to fit into a Christian context. For example, many of their favorite gods and goddesses were transformed into saints with the same names. This practice of Christianizing ancient pagan beliefs continued for many centuries, so that superstition prevailed under the guise of spirituality. Even though the Catholic church claimed Patrick as one of its followers, the truth is Patrick would have wanted nothing to do with it whatsoever. He would have recognized the subtle blend of pagan practices with Christian culture, shaking his head at how cleverly deceitful its doctrine was to the Irish people. Patrick would weep if he were alive today to behold how the Catholic church has falsely associated itself with his legacy.
No matter how deeply paganism pervaded the Celtic conscience, exposure to God’s truth could not escape the Irish people’s hearts.
A well-known hymn, called “Be Thou My Vision,” contains a very old Irish melody, paired with distinctly Christian words. While it is beloved by many people, not many are aware of the hidden Celtic symbolism in its lyrics. First of all, the phrase “Be Thou my vision” is significant to Celtic culture because the ancient pagan Celts believed that certain people were gifted with the ability to see into the future, beholding mystical visions of the unknown. Within the context of the hymn, this belief holds a direct parallel to a Christian trusting in God with his future, and seeking His will for his life. Rather than seeking out guidance from superstition as they did in ancient times, the Irish learned to seek out God as the main Authority in their lives. Second, the phrase “High King of Heaven” is significant to Celtic culture because of the system of government in ancient Ireland. The land was once greatly divided into several tribes and petty kingdoms, who were constantly warring with each other over trivial matters such as stolen cattle. However, there was one man appointed to be the High king, who had the rightful rule over all the other kingdoms and tribes of Ireland. His power was superior over everyone else without question. Within the context of the hymn, this historical fact holds a direct parallel to God being superior to all other false gods, Celtic pagan deities included. By calling God the High King of Heaven, the Irish people are acknowledging His sovereignty over their lives, and also His true, absolute power over all other lesser, imaginary deities. These words in the hymn form a beautiful, poetic meaning once they are connected to the personal spiritual testimony of the Irish.
God’s own Words reflect the truth of “Be Thou My Vision” the best:
Psalm 97:9 ~ “For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.“
Psalm 95:3 ~ “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
Psalm 37:4 ~ “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.“
Psalm 17:7 ~ “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.“
Psalm 5:3 ~ “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.“
Matthew 6:33 ~ “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.“
1 Corinthians 8:6 ~ “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.“
1 Corinthians 15:57 ~ “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.“
Galatians 3:1 ~ “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?“
Galatians 4:3 ~ “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:“
Exodus 20:3 ~ “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.“
What can we learn from the testimony of the Irish people?
The story of the Irish people’s salvation is truly inspirational, proving that God can work miracles in people’s hearts in spite of all opposing circumstances. However, we can also learn from some of the lessons they experienced the hard way, such as falling back into superstition under a different name and form. How can we guard ourselves from falling prey to the same old sins over and over? The answer is simple – we must make God our one and only Vision. When He takes His rightful place as High King of our hearts and their desires, we will be able to see His will clearly without confusion. When we make God our first thought each and every day, we will be less likely to fail Him and more likely to please Him, seeking to honor His Name through all that we do, think, and say. If we give our Heavenly Father the respect He deserves by acting like His adopted children as we should, we will make Him very happy indeed. So how is your vision today? Are you seeking God first, relying on Him for your future to be revealed to you day by day? Are you acknowledging Him as the High King of your heart and all its desires? I hope so.
– Gloria D. Hopkins