The following introduction to St. Patrick is adapted from the author information at www.ccel.org
The meditations that follow are an edited paraphrase of the text of The Confession of St. Patrick also at that website.
Saint Patrick (420?-March 17, 493?), the patron saint of Ireland, was born somewhere along the west coast of Britain in the little village of Bannavem, which has never been securely identified. His father was Calpornius, a deacon, the son of Potitus, a priest (priests were allowed to marry until the 8th century). Potitus was a Romanized Briton. At the age of about sixteen, Patrick was captured by raiders with “many thousands of people.” They were taken to Ireland and sold as slaves. Patrick was sold to a Druidic chieftain named Milchu and was his slave for six years.
Although he came from a Christian family, Patrick was not particularly religious before his capture. However, his enslavement strengthened his faith. He escaped at the age of twenty-two, returned to Britain, and was reunited with his parents. Later, he became one of the first missionaries in Ireland, after a dream in which a man from Ireland asked him to return. Although Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he was the first in many of the areas he worked, and tradition accords to him the most impact. Patrick was one of the earliest writers to advocate the abolition of slavery. Mythology credits him with banishing snakes from the island of Ireland, though others suggest that Ireland never actually had snakes. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian dogma of ‘three divine persons in the one God.’ In The Confession of St. Patrick he tells his story.
Kidnapped by Pirates at age sixteen
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to many, had for my father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest. We lived in the settlement of Bannavem where my father had a small villa near where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not then know the true God.
I was taken into captivity and brought to Ireland with many thousands of people. It was what we deserved, for we were quite drawn away from God. We did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us his fury and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth. There I, in my smallness, found myself among foreigners.
There the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. He watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me and consoled me as a father would his son. Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, for so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and then returning to him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven. For there is no other God,… and he himself said through the prophet: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me…’
Embarrassed at Lack of Education
Therefore, for some time I have thought of writing my account, but have hesitated until now, for truly, I feared to expose myself to the criticism of men. I have not studied like others who have assimilated the Holy Scriptures, and, who have never changed their language since their infancy, but instead were always learning it, increasingly to perfection. However, I was forced to learn and use a foreign tongue, so it is easy to prove from a sample of my writing, my poor ability and the limited extent of my preparation and knowledge. But why make excuses, especially when now I am presuming to try to grasp in my old age what I did not gain in my youth because my sins prevented me? But who will believe me, even though I should say it again? As a young man, almost a beardless boy, I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun. Consequently, today I feel ashamed and I am mightily afraid to expose my ignorance because I am not eloquent, and I am unable to explain as my spirit and soul and mind is eager to do…
I am from the country and clearly unlearned; and before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire. And then, He that is mighty came to me, and in His mercy raised me up and lifted me high and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I will shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors in this world and for ever… Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God. You men of God who are eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate. Who was it that summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in all things? Though truly wretched in this world, he inspired me… to be one who, with fear and reverence, faithfully, and without complaint, would come to the people to whom Christ brought me, to serve them truly and with humility, in my lifetime.
Therefore…, one should proceed without holding back to spread God’s name everywhere with confidence and without fear. This is so that I may leave behind, after my death, foundations for those many thousands I baptized in the Lord. I was not worthy that the Lord should grant me this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favor with these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.
Finds God While Herding the Flocks
After I reached Ireland (as a slave) I used to pasture the flock each day, and I prayed many times a day. More and more did the love of God and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day I would say up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number. Also, I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain, and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, and in the rain; and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.
I Corinthians 1:26-31 — Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
PRAYER ATTRIBUTED TO ST. PATRICK
May the Strength of God guide us. May the Power of God preserve us. May the Wisdom of God instruct us. May the Hand of God protect us. May the Way of God direct us. May the Shield of God defend us. May the Angels of God guard us. — Against the snares of the evil one. May Christ be with us! May Christ be before us! May Christ be in us, Christ be over all! May Thy Grace, Lord, Always be ours, This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.