Patrick was born Patricius
somewhere in Roman Britain to a relatively wealthy family. He was
not religious as a youth and, in fact, claims to have practically
renounced the faith of his family.
While in his teens, Patrick was kidnapped in a
raid and transported to Ireland, where he was enslaved to a local
warlord and worked as a shepherd until he escaped six years later.
He returned home and eventually undertook studies
for the priesthood with the intention of returning to Ireland as
a missionary to his former captors. It is not clear when he actually
made it back to Ireland, or for how long he ministered there, but
it was definitely for a number of years.
By the time he wrote the Confession and the "Letter
to Coroticus," Patrick was recognized by both Irish natives
and the Church hierarchy as the bishop of Ireland. By this time,
also, he had clearly made a permanent commitment to Ireland and
intended to die there.
These two brief documents are the basis for all we
know of the historical Patrick. The Confession, because its
purpose was to recount his own call to convert the Irish and to
justify his mission to an apparently unsympathetic audience in Britain,
is not a traditional biography.
And the "Letter to Coroticus," apparently
an Irish warlord whom Patrick was forced to excommunicate, is a
wonderful illustration of Patrick's prowess as a preacher but doesn't
tell us much by way of traditional biography either.
Adapted from St.
As recounted in the Confession, most of
the major events in Patrick's life are preceded by a dream or vision.
The visions were usually simplealmost self-explanatorybut
they were also very vivid and carried enormous emotional impact
The first vision, which he received after six
years of servitude in Ireland, came by way of a mysterious voice,
heard in his sleep. "Your hungers are rewarded: You are going
home," the voice said. "Look, your ship is ready."
Indeed, some 200 miles away, there it was. (Patrick was nothing
if not tenacious.)
The second visionthe one that came to him
after he'd returned home and that called him back to Irelandwas
equally straightforward. Victoricus, a man Patrick knew in Ireland,
appeared to him in this dream, holding countless letters, one of
which he handed to Patrick. The letter was entitled "The Voice
of the Irish." Upon reading just the title, he heard a multitude
of voices crying out to him: "Holy boy, we beg you to come
and walk among us once more." He was so moved by this that
he was unable to read further and woke up.
But the dream recurred again and again. Eventually
Patrick told his dismayed family of his plans to return to evangelize
Ireland and soon began his preparations for the priesthood. What
is interesting about this dream calling Patrick to his lifelong
mission to the Irish is that it came not as a directive from God,
but as a plea from the Irish. According to his recollections decades
later, Patrick wasn't commanded to bring civilization or salvation
to the heathens. He was invited to live among them as Christ's witness.
When he finally returned to Ireland, he proceeded
to treat the barbarians with the respect implicit in his dream.
From the outset, Patrick felt humbled and honored that God had selected
him to convert the Irish. Apparently he never doubted that he would
be able to do so.
Adapted from St.
Patrick lived in the fifth century, a time of
rapid change and transition. In many ways we might say that those
times of turbulence and uncertainty were not unlike our own. The
Roman Empire was beginning to break up, and Europe was about to
enter the so-called Dark Ages. Rome fell to barbarian invaders in
410. Within 10 years of that time, the Roman forces began to leave
Britain to return to Rome to defend positions back home. Life, once
so orderly and predictable under Roman domination, now became chaotic
and uncertain. Patrick entered the world of that time.
The British Church of Patrick's time was also
intimately connected with the Roman Empire. Missionaries from the
continent followed the development of Roman towns, travelling over
the system of good Roman roads. This was an urban Church with bishops
establishing their centers in these Roman towns. The great ecumenical
councils, beginning with that in Nicea in 325, doctrinally solidified
a developing and common faith throughout this Church.
As Ireland had not come under the Roman Empire,
it was for the most part unnoticed and untended by the developing
Church. There were some Irish Christians, mostly on the eastern
and southeastern coast. Many of these were probably British slaves
who had been taken into captivity by the Irish. There is a record
of a Bishop Palladius being sent to Ireland before Patrick. But
the mission of Patrick was unique. There had been, up to this time,
no other organized or concerted missionary effort to convert any
pagan peoples beyond the confines of the Roman Empire. Patrick's
efforts to do this, in fact, were criticized as being a useless
Adapted from A
Retreat With St. Patrick: Discovering God in All.
note from Friar Jack: I want to take this opportunity to thank
the hundreds of you that have taken the time to respond to me in
recent months and offer your own thoughts about my musings or the
Catechism Quiz. Often your thoughts are very profound and heartfelt
and indeed illuminating to me, not to mention inspiring. They can
also be challenging, even sharply so, causing me to reconsider and
often to broaden my horizons. Many also include kind words of appreciation
and touching pledges of prayerful and loving support. My most heartfelt
thanks to all!!
It is my intention and that of my coworkers that
each of you who sends me an e-mail response receives an automatic
response indicating that I am very grateful for all communications from you, read
each one of them and pray for all who write me, as well as for our
entire online community. I want to confirm that all of this is true.
I am told, at the same time, that there can be
glitches. After the newsletter goes out we must disengage the automatic
response temporarily to avoid being bombarded by "out of the office"
notices and other responses. Being technologically challenged I
don't understand such things, but this problem has been mentioned
to me more than once. So if you don't always receive a response
from me, it's not that we don't have good intentions.
Let me also explain that it is simply impossible
for me to answer personally the large volume of e-mails that come
in. This is painful to me, because I am often deeply touched by
your comments, insights and sincere questions. This was especially
true of many responses to my last
musing, "God's World Is Holy." My heart wants to answer
and engage in dialogue with you, but because of the many hats I
wear here at St. Anthony Messenger Press and unrelenting deadlines,
it is simply impossible for me to do so.
One thing that amazes me about your responses
is that they come from all around the world and from people of different
religious backgrounds. We are truly an international and "ecumenical"
community. This is a good lead-in to this month's Inbox. Last month
we printed an e-mail from a reader who said the Muslim majority in
Malaysia persecutes Christians. Two readers from Malaysia wrote
to take exception with that assertion. Here is one of the two e-mails:
Dear Friar Jack: I
am a Chinese living in Malaysia. I am baptized as a Catholic
in year 2002. Previously I was a Taoist. I write in response to
the statement made by Miss Erina that "Christians in Malaysia
are persecuted and imprisoned." The statement seems so general
and misleading. I myself observe harmony, freedom and respect in
whatever religion one chooses to embrace in the country. My family
is staying in a neighborhood where the majority of the residents
are Muslims. Though there are a lot of differences in cultures,
beliefs and mindsets between Muslims and Christians, as far as my
neighborhood is concerned we are able to live harmoniously and
respectfully with each other. Diplomacy and peace will not come
by themselves. They have to be developed. I believe we as Christians
are always called by God to live peacefully with all people and
to love everyone. Though it is hard to practice humility, it is
the root to understand and accept people and their beliefs. "Let
there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."June
Dear Friar Jack: I
sometimes cannot understand the difference between my human
life and my life of GOD. I hope (and know that I will) stand face
to face with him so to thank him for all he has given to me. I do
understand that my GOD, Maker and Savior gives to me all I need
to get through what we call life. Why is it that he looks to me
with a love as if I am the only thing in this universe? My GOD is
an awesome GOD and I tell him so each day.Chester
Dear Chester: You express with great reverence
and humility the mystery of God and the close relationship you seem
to have with God. Jesus also spoke of this mystery from God's point
of view: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5).
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