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Forgiveness: The Story of that Great Englishman Saint Patrick
By David Evans
We all know that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and the ultimate symbol of all things Irish. But in fact Saint Patrick was actually British! Here is his surprising story . . .
Patrick was born in the year 389 A.D. on the West Coast of Britain. It was not yet England and was still under the weakening control of the Roman Empire. In fact, Patrick's father was a minor official for the Romans, with enough status to enable his family to lead a comfortable, privileged life. But it was a dangerous time. There was a smoldering state of warfare between the Britons and the Irish across the sea. War parties from each side crossed over to the other side and raided the villages, looting, grabbing prisoners, and torching buildings. Many people were killed.
One night when the sixteen-year-old Patrick was asleep, a band of Irish pirates swept into his village with wild war whoops. They smashed down the door of his house, jerked Patrick out of bed, knocked him to the floor, and tied his hands behind his back. Then they shoved Patrick, dazed and stumbling, back to their boat, and threw him onto the deck. Soon the boat slid into the water, and Patrick, with ropes cutting into his wrists, was on his way to the forbidding land of Ireland and the life of a slave.
In Ireland Patrick was sold to a local king who put him to work tending the livestock. He endured beatings, near-starvation, and sub-zero temperatures. In the dead of winter he was forced to tend the herds in the hill country to the far North, where he was constantly shivering from the arctic winds howling all around him.
Patrick had grown up in a Christian household, but his family's faith had meant little to him. To Patrick, Christianity meant empty Bible passages, delivered in a singsong voice. Or dinnertime prayers hurried over as quickly as possible, so the meal could begin.
But the crisis of slavery changed everything for Patrick. He began to recall fragments of bible verses and long forgotten prayers and homilies from his childhood. He remembered that some of the people in the Bible had also gone through great tribulation: Job; the Israelites in Egypt; the psalmist David, fleeing for his life first from King Saul and then from his son Absalom. He remembered that they cried out to God, who brought them deliverance. So, with his heart in great anguish, Patrick turned toward the Lord.
He constantly dreamed of running away, but for years it was impossible. He was too closely guarded. Then one day a miraculous opportunity arose and he escaped. Patrick began the long, perilous journey to the coast, where he caught a boat for the continent. After many adventures he was finally re-united with his family for a spectacular Homecoming.
But even harder than escaping the imprisonment of his captors, was the struggle to escape from the imprisonment of his own heart. Patrick was filled with rage and resentment over his suffering while he was a slave. It was only through the alchemy of prayer that he was finally able to transmute his hatred for his captors into eventual forgiveness.
Patrick's religious experiences along the way led him toward the priesthood, and he traveled to Gaul for his ecclesiastical studies. But after his ordination, he began having strange, recurrent dreams. Again and again, in the middle of the night, he heard voices. They were Irish voices. They kept calling him, beckoning him: "We beseech thee, Patrick, come and walk among us once again."
Patrick came to believe very strongly that it was God's hand that first took him to Ireland, and that God was now calling him to return. So after Patrick became a bishop, he journeyed back to Ireland, but this time by his own free will, on a mission of love and mercy.
Patrick served in Ireland for thirty years as a wandering bishop. His contributions are the stuff of legend. He established churches and monasteries all through the country. He baptized tens of thousands of the faithful, and ordained hundreds of priests. He was greatly loved and was the true patron of Ireland.
What a wonderful model Saint Patrick is for all of us! He demonstrated that it is possible to live the life that Jesus has called us to. He is a great example of that life. Patrick suffered through years of pain and mistreatment, but he learned how to love his enemies and pray for those who persecuted him. With God's help we can too.