St Patrick’s Day – a letter to Sinéad, Mark, and their young friends: Meet the Man!

Dear Sinead, Mark and Friends, Greetings for St. Patrick’s Day! I hope it is a great one for you. And thank God, this day, for our new Pope, Pope Francis. May God bless him mightily and give him the strength he needs daily, for us all.

Some may call March 17th  ‘Paddy’s Day’, but let’s try and meet the man himself, Patrick, Son of Calpornius, a deacon,  and grandson of Potritus the priest! (Priests were often married in those times.). Our Patrick hailed from the village of Bannaventaberniae,- in Britain (Wales?) or in Brittany? No one is sure.

He was fifteen when he was taken captive in a raid on his village, along with many others: the raider was ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’ (I often prefer to call him ‘Niall of the Nine Sausages’, just to confuse people!). Here are some of his own words, taken from one of his two writings that we still have,- ‘The Confessions of St. Patrick’- meaning his Confession of Praise of God for what God had done and was doing in him and through him.

I am Patrick a sinner, the most rustic and least of all the faithful’ is how he begins. Then about his being taken captive:

I was almost sixteen at the time and I did not know the true God…I was taken captive as an adolescent, almost a speechless boy, before I new what to see and what to avoid.’  Later he writes about his time in captivity, very probably at the foot of Slemish Mountain in County Antrim:

‘When I had come to Ireland, I was tending herds every day and I used to pray many times during the day. More and more the love of God and reverence for him came to me. My faith increased and the spirit was stirred up so that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. This I did even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain. Before dawn I used to roused up to pray in snow or frost or rain. I never fl eth worse for it, nor was I in any way lazy because, as I know realise the Spirit was burning within me.

At the age of 21 or 22, he escaped, probably to France. Some years later, he had a dream: ‘one night I saw a vision of a man called Victoricus, who appeared to have come from Ireland with an unlimited number of letters. He gave me one of them, and I read the opening words which were ‘The voice of the Irish’. As I read the beginning of the letter I seemed at the same moment to hear the voice of those who were by the wood …near the Western Sea. They shouted with one voice: ‘We ask you, holy boy, come and walk once more among us.’ I was cut to the heart and could read no more’.

Another night he had a dream and the only bit he could make out of it was this statement at the end: ‘He who gave his life for you, he it is who is speaking in you’ And he adds ‘At that I awoke with joy.’

That was the call that Patrick heard, to come back to Ireland with the Gospel of Christ, with the love of Christ for this people. That was the call that Patrick answered, probably now in his thirties.

Later in the letter he writes, about his teenage years spent in Ireland as a slave: ‘But I cannot hide the gift of God which he gave me in the land of my captivity. I sought him vigorously then, and there I found him.’

‘I came to the Irish heathens to preach the Good News, and to put up with insults from unbelievers…It is there that I wish to spend (my life) until I die….All this was for a people newly come to belief whom the lord took from the very ends of the earth’.  And, in another place:  ‘We are indeed witnesses that the Good News has been preached in distant parts, in places beyond which nobody lives.’

‘From the time in my early manhood when I came to know him, the love of God and reverence for him have grown in me… Although he chose me to be his helper I was slow to accept the prompting of the Spirit.

‘I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy he not only pulled me out but lifted me up and placed me at the very top of the wall.’

Patrick concludes his Confession:  ‘Let your conclusion and the general opinion be the real truth, that my success was the gift of God.’

Patrick, our friend and saint, was captivated, not by Niall his captor, but by Christ who captivated him.  Patrick allowed his heart to be filled more and more, day in and day out, with the love that God the Father had for him, with the love of Christ who gave himself for him. This young heart, filled with the joy and love of the Holy Spirit, gave himself to the people of Ireland.  ‘The Spirit was burning within me’.

Even though he was desperately homesick at times, he would not leave, for fear he might not return if he did.

What is captivating about Patrick for us today is that in him we meet a man who was himself captivated by Christ Jesus, who experienced daily the magnetism of Christ. And he saw people through the eyes of Christ, he saw the absolute value to Christ of each and every person, everywhere. He loved us with the love of Christ.

Thanks, Patrick. May we, in our generation, with our Pope Francis, allow our own hearts and families and communities to be ‘taken captive’ by the over-whelming love of God for us all, and share that love with all we meet. May we ‘open wide the doors to Christ’, among our friends and with them.

‘Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ all around me.’  (The Breastplate of Patrick)

Fr. Seamus.

 Watch this youtube video of ‘The Cry of the Deer’, sung at the inauguration of Michael D Higgins as President of Ireland:


Redemptorist Monastery, St. Patrick's, Esker, Athenry, Co Galway.


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