Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland (c. 461)
A boy stands at the border, looking out on the frontier, the land between the known and unknown, between the receding Roman Empire and the “pagus,” the encroaching place of barbarians and chaos, capture and slavery.
Years later the boy will write, “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”
So begins The Confession of St. Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland. His reflection continues. “I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future.” Patrick’s story is the story of so many young ones today: refugees, unaccompanied minors, youths forced into wage slavery and prostitution.
In his time of exile and slavery Patrick suffered hunger, cold and lack of sleep, but he came to know God’s love and mercy. God’s providence. He writes, “But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was 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.”
In a most miraculous way, Patrick, led by God’s spirit, walks away from his captors in Ireland and returns home to England. There he studies and, like his father and grandfather is ordained a priest.
But Patrick cannot forget the people of Ireland and in a dream Patrick is visited by someone he knew in Ireland. He hands Patrick a letter, addressed to Vox Hiberionica, the Voice of the Irish.
Patrick knows the suffering of the Irish. Patrick has compassion on this people, for they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus speaks to Patrick and tells him “he who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you.”
Consecrated a missionary Bishop, Patrick returns to Ireland, a champion for the Triune God and a passionate foe of slavery and war; within his lifetime slavery comes to an end in Ireland.
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