Patrick said that “he went where no man had gone before.” That expression, which is still in use today, we probably got from St. Patrick. In our hero’s day it was extremely dangerous to head-out to parts unknown, so most didn’t try. But these fears didn’t stop Patrick; he was driven to fulfill his mission regardless of the cost.
Patrick left behind writings, known for expressions of great humility, called “Confessions.” Here are sample excerpts:
“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time… I was taken into captivity in Ireland…It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God…Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life…”
It was these combinations of drive and humility which were the key to Patrick’s life’s work, a work that not only wrought great changes among the Irish people, but the rest of the world.
Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, but it was a different sort, a revised version of the one that emanated from Rome. First of all, the Ireland of Patrick’s day lacked villages from whence parishes emerged, and cities, where dioceses were formed, were scarce. Thus the Irish church, not having a centralized religious authority, was “anchored by monasteries which became not only religious sites of scholarship and spirituality, but economic and market centers…” The Irish then, to some extent, had their own version of Christianity which they molded to their own experiences.
Patrick was ahead of his times in that he empathized with women and became one of the first righteous voices to denounce slavery. The Saint’s version of Christianity was brighter than the gloomy and fearful versions which characterized much of Europe in that he “could see,” according to Malachy McCourt, “God’s glory in the natural world about him, and could concentrate on the natural God-given joy of life rather than the sin of man’s soul.”
In keeping with this joyous spirit and love of humanity, Patrick did not, McCourt tells us, “as other missionaries in other places would later, condemn the Celts as ignorant infidels or uncouth Pagans. Instead, he took the Druidic world and tried to explain it in Christian terms.” In other words, instead of driving people away by self-righteous arrogance, Patrick sought to win their hearts.
As a drop of ink makes millions to think, “perhaps most important of all, Patrick’s importing Christianity to Ireland brought ‘writing,’ a skill that would not only advance Irish civilization immeasurably but, would also save the civilization of the western world” (Malachy McCourt, History of Ireland).
“With the Irish,” wrote Thomas Cahill, Saint Patrick “succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime…the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and inter-tribal warfare, decreased.” He also inspired men who “by their way of life reminded the Irish that the virtues of lifelong faithfulness, courage, and generosity were actually attainable by ordinary human beings and that the sword was not the only instrument for structuring a society.”
Joy combined with self-sacrificing love, not the sword, wins affections and transforms lives. Be like Patrick.