Many of us have grown up having been regaled with wonderful stories of St. Patrick. How he drove the snakes out of Ireland (not in a car!), how he introduced alcohol to Ireland (hence the overwhelming global intent on over consumption of alcohol on the 17th March), and the list can go on. However, when the actual facts are collated, we start to see this amazing picture of a quite remarkable life. A life of extreme trials, slavery, loneliness, and persecution starts to emerge as his writings are studied (see: www.confessio.ie). In response to these hardships, what we see developing is a teenager becoming a man, with an utter reliance upon God; a relationship with the trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
In an attempt to ‘move beyond the blarney’ we can look at some of the facts about the man Patrick, and what made him so remarkable.
As a troubled teenage boy Patrick was taken into slavery and brought to Ireland, left out in the Wild West (Mayo) tending sheep. Patrick came from a God fearing family, his father was a deacon, and his grandfather a priest. It was this childhood faith that was developed exponentially in his long days and nights by himself. Although he had turned away from God in his youth, deep down inside he must have known God was always with him.
In his writings Patrick himself reflects on how his prayer life grew at this time when he writes;
"After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time."
Patrick knew, even though he had rebelled against the church and God, that God still loved him no matter what. Furthermore, that in his time of distress, he could call on the the Lord, and He would be there providing comfort to Patrick. Maybe this is a familiar story for most of us, we have turned away from God and things may not seem as hopeful as we would desire them to be. The good news is, that God is always there for you, desiring relationship with you. It is never to late or too soon to call out to God, to enter into a new personal relationship with Him in a fresh way, Patrick found this out and did so, as we can see from his reflection.
Sometime after this Patrick had a vision from God, this informed him that ‘his ship was ready’ and so Patrick escaped slavery and went back to Britain. Happy days one might say, thank God that is over another might say, but what did God say? Let's see...
"A few years later I was again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again. It was while I was there that I saw, in a vision in the night, a man[Nota] whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for."
After a series of visions and confirmations of his calling back to the land of his slavery. God wanted Patrick back in Ireland to spread he good news of the gospel to Irish men and women. Let us consider for a moment Ireland in the 5th century; Ireland had no government, it was made up of tribes/clans; it was a barbaric place; it was a polytheistic culture, pagan worship was widely practiced; and of course slavery was normal.
Now, Patrick knew this, but his time spent in slavery was a time of equipping. He learned about the culture, the language, and how the Irish worshipped. It had become clear that his previous slavery was a time of preparation for a greater purpose that God had for Patrick, and ultimately the people of Ireland. There are times in our own lives that we have gone through situations that hold nothing but negative memories. But God’s ways aren't our ways, and his thoughts aren't our thoughts, God can take these seemingly negative circumstances and redeem them for His own good purposes. Which in Patrick's case, was to bring the fullness of the gospel message to the Irish in difficult times.
In conclusion, Patrick had a tough life from boy to man, but as we can read from his confession, his relationship, trust and obedience grew in God. Patrick became sensitive to God’s leading and direction through the Holy Spirit and in obedience stepped out in faith to bring a hope filled message to the Irish. This gospel message of Jesus dying for the forgiveness of our sins, rising again on the third day, and ascending into heaven so we may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, has been at the core of this great nation for generations.
It is my prayer that many more would hear the call from God to enter into personal relationship with him and beyond that share this good news with others across this nation.
By Paul Maloney. Paul is currently doing his degree in Applied Theology at Irish Bible Institute as well as being part of the fellowship at Amazing Grace.