Today is the solemnity of our national patron St Patrick. When I was in seminary, our history professor said that it is difficult to separate fact from legend in dealing with such a bygone age. Apparently even the link between St Patrick and his use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity can only be traced back to written records of the 1600s. The only two authentic sources we have for Patrick is his autobiographical CONFESSIONS OF ST PATRICK and a letter he wrote to a slave trader on behalf of one of his flock.
Below is an excerpt from Patrick’s CONFESSIONS that appears in the Office of Readings. It speaks about his great gratitude to God for his many blessings; his sense of being enfolded by God’s providential plan for his life; that he has offered his life completely to God. Ponder it prayerfully.
I give unceasing thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the day of my testing. Today I can offer him sacrifice with confidence, giving myself as a living victim to Christ, my Lord, who kept me safe through all my trials. I can say now: Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that you worked through me with such divine power? You did all this so that today among the Gentiles I might constantly rejoice and glorify your name wherever I may be, both in prosperity and in adversity. You did it so that, whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God. God showed me how to have faith in him for ever, as one who is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that in the last days, ignorant though I am, I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of his Gospel, bearing witness to all nations.
How did I get this wisdom, that was not mine before? I did not know the number of my days, or have knowledge of God. How did so great and salutary a gift come to me, the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.
If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favour. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many peoples should be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation and everywhere among them clergy ordained for a people so recently coming to believe, one people gathered by the Lord from the ends of the earth. As God had prophesied of old through the prophets: The nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth, and say: “How false are the idols made by our fathers: they are useless.” In another prophecy he said: I have set you as a light among the nations, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: They shall come from the east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.
℟. God has given me this special grace: he has appointed me as a priest of Jesus Christ, and I am to carry out my priestly duty by bringing the Good News from God to the pagans,* and so make them acceptable as an offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
℣. I offer God the humble service of my spirit by preaching the Good News of his Son to the pagans,* and so make them acceptable as an offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Here is a link to St Patrick’s Breastplate which expresses his essential spirituality.