There is probably no other missionary in the history of the church, besides the Apostle Paul, who is as well known today as St. Patrick of Ireland. As far as I know, he is the only one with a national holiday in his honor. On March 17 millions of people around the world celebrate. Not only is Patrick remembered, but it’s a day to honor Ireland. People become Irish for a day by wearing green.
However, it may surprise many that Patrick was not Irish. The historical Patrick was born in Britain in the 5th century. Many legends have grown up about Patrick. Few are actually verified true. We only have two literary works attributed to Patrick. Just before St. Patrick’s Day 2023, I decided to read one of those, “The Confession of St. Patrick.” In this work, Patrick tells his spiritual journey. I’d like to share some of his story “in his own words.” Patrick opens up with an honest confession: “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple country person, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.”
Patrick as a Slave
At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates from his home in Britain and taken to Ireland. He grew up hearing about God, but rejected the God of his parents. He writes:
“At that time, I did not recognize the true God: that was why I was taken as a captive to Ireland, along with many thousands of others with me. We fully deserve to suffer like this for we had all turned our back upon God, we did not keep his commands.”
Not much is known about Patrick as a slave, but he writes about turning to God:
“[T]here, the Lord opened up my senses to my unbelief; so that, though late in the day, I might remember my many sins, and accordingly, I might turn to the Lord my God with all my heart, who has looked upon my lowliness and taken pity on my adolescence, on my ignorance, and kept safe watch over me before I ever knew him, yes, even before I had wit enough to tell good from evil. It was he who strengthened me, consoling me just as a father comforts his son… But after I had come to Ireland, it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day, and as I did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day. More and more the love of God and fear of him grew strong within me, and as my faith grew, so the Spirit became more and more active, so that in a single day, I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night, only slightly less…in the snow, in frost, in rain, I would hardly notice any discomfort, and I was never slack but always full of energy. It is clear to me now, that this was due to the fervor of the Spirit within me.”
Patrick’s Escape and Call to Missions
After 6 years a slave in Ireland, Patrick found a way to escape on a ship. But while home in Britain, he felt the call of God to go back to Ireland to spread the Gospel. He wrote:
“But now as large as life, I had a vision in my dreams, of a man who seemed to come from Ireland: his name was Victoricius and he carried countless letters one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began, “The voice of the Irish.” As I began to read these words I seemed to hear the voice of the same men . . . they seemed to shout aloud to me as if with one and the same voice: “Holy broth of a boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us.” I was utterly pierced to my heart’s core, so that I could read no more.”
Patrick the Missionary
Patrick comments humbly about his return to Ireland:
“Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently offer my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord; who am I, Lord? or, rather, what is my calling? that you appeared to me in so great a divine quality, so that today among the barbarians I might constantly exalt and magnify your name in whatever place I should be, and not only in good fortune, but even in affliction? So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever, and who will encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to undertake so devout and so wonderful a work; so that I might imitate one of those whom, once, long ago, the Lord already pre-ordained to be heralds of his Gospel to witness to all peoples to the ends of the earth. So are we seeing, and so it is fulfilled; behold, we are witnesses because the Gospel has been preached as far as the places beyond which no man lives.”
As a successful missionary, he gave all glory to God:
“So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God.”
“But I see that even here and now, I have been exalted beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy that he should grant me this, while I know most certainly that poverty and failure suit me better than wealth and delight (but Christ the Lord was poor for our sakes;) I certainly am wretched and unfortunate; even if I wanted wealth I have no resources, nor is it my own estimation of myself, for daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises. But I fear nothing, because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere. As the prophet says: “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers.”
Patrick’s Final Words
St. Patrick concluded his biography with the following words:
“Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing. And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for his name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied, or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, I think, most surely, were this to have happened to me, I had saved both my soul and my body. For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ (Rom. 8:17, 29), made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him. For the sun we see rises each day for us at [his] command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendor last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ’s will, but will abide forever just as Christ abides forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever. Amen. Sec. 25 Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty.”
I realize that many may not read this far about the life and ministry of Patrick in his own words. But I believe if you are reading these words, you have been blessed to recognize what a humble, godly man he was. I look forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Heaven with St. Patrick. I’m sure he will have some good stories.
You can also read my other article about St. Patrick: Who is St. Patrick Anyway?