By Luke Johnson | January 1, 2013
READ St. Patrick’s “Confessio”
What impresses you about St. Patrick when you hear about his life in his own words?
Does anything surprise you about Patrick’s story?
According to Patrick, why did he and thousands of other people get taken to Ireland? (2)
Have you ever been lost somewhere? What happened, and what was it like?
How did you get unlost?
Imagine what it was like for Patrick -- he was only 16, and a captive in Ireland for 6 years and never got to tell his family he was still alive. He had no phone or email or Facebook or even the chance to send a letter. He was very alone.
What happened to Patrick while he was stuck in Ireland? (4)
What did Patrick do when he finally made it home? (7)
What do you think of Patrick’s choice to go back to Ireland? Is he crazy?
What ended up happening to Patrick when he went back to Ireland? (9-11)
How do you think Patrick changed Ireland?
Was Patrick pretty impressed with himself? How does he talk about himself in his “Confessio”?
If St. Patrick was at youth group today, what message do you think he’d have for us?
St. Patrick’s “Confessio”
Patrick is a saint who knows all about loving his enemies.
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I was taken prisoner . . . [when] I was about sixteen. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth.
It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was. I was taken prisoner as a youth, particularly young in the matter of being able to speak, and before I knew what I should seek and what I should avoid.
Patrick didn’t know God before he was imprisoned in Ireland, but started thinking about God while far from home:
It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.
After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.
One night Patrick heard God’s voice telling him to journey to a ship that would take him home to Britain. The ship was 200 miles away, but he made it there just in time. He made it home to his parents after 6 years of captivity. His parents were so glad to have him home that they told him never to leave again. But…
A few years later, when Patrick was dreaming one night, a man came with more letters for Patrick than he could count. When Patrick opened one, the voices of everyone in Ireland came out of it, pleading, “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us!” He sensed that God was talking to him through his dream. Later, Patrick had another dream and heard a voice say to him, “The one who gave his life for you, it is he who speaks in you.” When Patrick woke up, he knew what he needed to do. He became a priest and went to Ireland as soon as he could. But he was afraid he wasn’t good enough to do what God asked.
It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.
Patrick was determined to preach the gospel to all of Ireland. He travelled east and west and north and south. He went everywhere -- even past where people lived. He knew the Gospels said to preach the Good News in all creation, baptizing all who believe, and teaching them to obey God’s commands. Patrick cared very deeply for the Irish, and God worked powerfully through him:
How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!
Patrick was eventually made a Bishop in Ireland, and baptized thousands and thousands of people and ordained many to be priests and deacons to continue to preach the gospel in Ireland.
So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life. There were many who forbade this mission. They even told stories among themselves behind my back, and the said: “Why does he put himself in danger among hostile people who do not know God?” It was not that they were malicious – they just did not understand, as I myself can testify, since I was just an unlearned country person. Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then.
Patrick considered himself to be nothing, but yet God worked through him to do amazing things:
Who was it who called one as foolish as I am from the middle of those who are seen to be wise and experienced in law and powerful in speech and in everything? If I am most looked down upon, yet he inspired me, before others, so that I would faithfully serve the nations with awe and reverence and without blame: the nations to whom the love of Christ brought me. His gift was that I would spend my life, if I were worthy of it, to serving them in truth and with humility to the end.
(Excerpt from “Confessio” by St. Patrick, ca. AD 460.)