Forgive us Patrick, for we have sinned

Posted: March 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Most usually the reality of a thing is distorted in direct proportion to our distance from it. Like Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, for instance.

The Irish are amused by our American pretending around their heritage. Well, of course, there are lots of descendents of the Irish here; I’m one of them. But our presentation of Patrick and his day is a far stretch from how the Irish observe it. And that is understated. After mass they might head next door to the pub and lift a glass. But that’s it, no fanfare, no green pennants and parades. It’s a saint’s day.

I don’t know how the real Patrick, rather than the mythical one we’ve created, would take us. How would he respond to hearing his name chanted as an incantation during drunken brawls? Would he be shocked? Or bemused?

Patrick lived and died sometime in the 400s AD. He was probably born in Britain, when it was still a part of the Roman Empire. He was captured and forced into slavery in Ireland for six years, but escaped. Later, by the strangest turn of providence, he returned to the land of his enslavement, Ireland, as a missionary, and then as bishop. The only reliable sources we have about his life are two documents written in Latin called his Confession and a Letter. All the other lore was created later, as people mythologized him. For me none of that is necessary; his life is a remarkable testimony as it is.

Patrick’s life was propelled by two dreams. The first dream came to him when he was a slave in Ireland. He was told that his ship was waiting. The ship was a great distance away, but he ran away and found it in harbor, setting sail for Britain and his family.

After he was home, reunited with his family, he had another dream. This word was different. He was to go back to the place of his enslavement, Ireland. Imagine how he might have responded to that. “Uh, huh, you want me to go back?” But he did. And this time he was not the slave of earthly masters but rather a heavenly one.

Patrick labored in the vineyard thirty years, sharing the Gospel with kings and chieftains. When one king was converted he would ask if the king’s sons would go with him to visit the next king down the road. And so on.

At the end of his Letter he shared a parting hope:

I now commend my soul to God, for whom, despite my obscurity, I have served as ambassador. Indeed, in choosing such a lowly person as me for this noble task, God has shown that He is no respecter of persons. May God never separate me from His people on this island, which stands at the very edge of the earth. And my God always make me a faithful witness of His saving love, until He calls me to heaven.

  1. Jan Coffman says:

    I didn’t know this. Thanks

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