Patrick was born in the north-west of Roman Britain. Calpornius, his father, was a Deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest. Though a third generation Christian, he neglected his lessons and his faith. The shock came when he was about sixteen, and he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland. For six years he tended the cattle for his master in the mountains of County Antrim. Here in silence and loneliness, and in all weathers, he cried out to God for help and strength. He writes that his faith grew in captivity, and fervent prayer became a vital part of his daily life. After six years he heard an inner voice telling him to go home, and then that his ship was ready. When the opportunity came Patrick stole away and walked 200 miles to a seaport, where he joined a ship and was taken on a roundabout journey, eventually reaching home, now in his early twenties. Here he found he couldn’t settle, always dreaming of Ireland, until he recognised that God was calling him back to take the Gospel to its people.
Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us
Thus he became “the Apostle to the Irish”, beginning his work there in 432 at Saul, near Strangford Lough. Later he moved to the place now known as Armagh. On Easter Day 433 he confronted the pagan druids by lighting a fire, contrary to their custom of extinguishing all fires for the day as part of the spring festival. They were only allowed to be relit from the fire on the Hill of Tara, the royal residence and druidic sacred place. The druids saw Patrick’s fire and declared that, if it was not put out quickly, the light of Christ would never be extinguished in Ireland. Patrick and his companions fled to escape the soldiers who sought their lives, but all the soldiers could see was a herd of deer moving through the woods, and Patrick and his friends escaped unharmed. As a result the great shield prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, reflecting his concerns, is sometimes called “The Deer’s Cry”. Indeed, because of Patrick, many thousands in Ireland became Christians. Patrick baptised thousands of people, and ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too. It is also said that Patrick was very keen to encourage the new converts to believe in God as Three in One and One in Three, and used the shamrock leaf to explain the Trinity to them. Certainly Patrick proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the praise of his heavenly Father.
As one of the earliest Christian missionaries travelling abroad to spread the Christian faith, Saint Patrick is important because he serves as a testament to the overall missionary legacy of the Church. Patrick’s example would inspire many later Celtic saints to undertake great missions to evangelise vast areas of Britain and Europe.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three in One and One in Three, make us strong to oppose what is wrong in Your sight, and to work for what is right and good. As we seek to do Your will, shield us with Your encircling presence. May Your people today light a fire of love and truth that will never be put out. Amen.