Our Patron - Saint Patrick
Let us allow our patron saint to answer the question: ‘I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unlearned of men, the lowliest of all the faithful, utterly worthless in the eyes of many. My father was Calpornius who was a deacon and a son of the priest Potitus. He ministered in a suburb of Bannaven Taberniae where he had a country residence nearby.’
Saint Patrick’s penned these words in Latin at the beginning of his confessio (confession) that reflected on his extraordinary grace filled life. From this piece of writing and his letter to the soldiers of Coroticus we derive an insight into his honesty, humility and courage.
There have been many a reflection and biography of Saint Patrick over the years and literature is still widely available on the internet, bookshops and libraries. We will pick up on a few aspects of his personality and life here.
The name Patrick derives from a Latin word meaning nobleman. Although he was not a nobleman his early years might be described as privileged. He was a citizen of a Roman empire that was experiencing decline and harassment from invaders. His earthly life began around 400AD probably somewhere near the mouth of the River Severn though his birthplace may have been Boulogne-sur-mer on the French coast. The matter is of little import given that he was a man born of God, a citizen of heaven
and on fire with the Holy Spirit.
Despite his education being cut short at sixteen when taken captive he never doubted the quality and diligence of the pastors responsible for his Christian instruction. He was later to confess that he had turned away from God, disobeyed his pastors and broken the commandments despite his Christian upbringing that would have included baptism.
The Spirit of the living God poured into the heart of Patrick during his six years as a herdsman on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim: ‘Even in times of snow or frost or rain I would rise before dawn to pray’.
During that prayer filled time Patrick underwent a conversion experience. We see the supernatural change in his personality following his first escape from captivity. Having landed their escape ship, the group wandered through deserted country and were hungry and desolate, the ship’s captain prevailed on the Christian faith of Patrick; his response was telling: ‘Turn sincerely with your whole heart to the Lord my God because nothing is impossible to him, that this day he may send you food on your way until you are satisfied; for he has plenty everywhere.’
It was after his second escape from captivity that he heard the call of the Irish: ‘We askyou boy, come and walk once more among us.’ Patrick was clearly filled with the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of the Lord.
On awaking on one occasion he recalled the words of the apostle: ‘The Lord who is our apostle expresses our plea. ‘(IJohn 2:1)
It was most probable after the call of the Irish that Patrick, sensing a vocation met with Bishop Germanus of Auxerre who would send him to train as a late vocation in Auxerre, France. Given his sanctity and missionary potential Patrick would soon be ordained Bishop to replace Palladius in Ireland. There was to be a number of frustrations and setbacks before Bishop Patrick would sail to Ireland to begin his mission.
A seventh-century biographer suggests Patrick’s work was mainly in north-east, central and western Ireland. Tradition suggests Patrick spent forty days and nights in prayer and fasting on what would be known as Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. A place we have visited as a parish. Some of us hope to make a day trip to Saint Patrick’s purgatory in Count Donegal, Lough Derg to sample some of the penitential exercises our patron left with us.
Patrick worked tirelessly baptizing and confirming Christians, and ordaining those with education and a calling to the priesthood. He encouraged men and women to embrace the monastic life. Patrick brought the gospel to those who followed ancient Druidic cults. In a letter, Patrick denounced the soldiers of the Welsh prince Coroticus who had plundered and murdered some of his converts.
In the conclusion to his confession Patrick urges his readers not to attribute to him any achievements but rather: ‘Let your conclusion and the general opinion rather be the real truth, that my success was the gift of God.’