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Monday, March 17, 2014

Remember an Obedient Servant of the Lord

Saint Patrick's Day Collect

Almighty God,
who in your providence chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of you:
Grant us so to walk in that light,
that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever.
St. Patrick of Ireland
When it comes to discipleship, few men measure up to the obedience of Patrick of Ireland. Taken to Ireland as a slave at age 16, he remained in servitude for six years until God guided his escape.  Arriving back in England, the Lord placed in Patrick's heart such a love and compassion for the pagan Irish, that he returned and facing great dangers in order to led many to faith in Jesus Christ.

Patrick was born about AD 390, in southwest Britain, somewhere between the Severn and the Clyde rivers, son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. When about sixteen years old, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. Until this time, he had, by his own account, cared nothing for God, but now he turned to God for help. After six years, he either escaped or was freed, made his way to a port 200 miles away, and there persuaded some sailors to take him onto their ship. He returned to his family much changed, and began to prepare for the priesthood, and to study the Bible.

Around 435, Patrick was commissioned, perhaps by bishops in Gaul and perhaps by the Pope, to go to Ireland as a bishop and missionary. Four years earlier another bishop, Palladius, had gone to Ireland to preach, but he was no longer there. Patrick made his headquarters at Armagh in the North, where he built a school, and had the protection of the local monarch. From this base he made extensive missionary journeys, with considerable success. To say that he single-handedly turned Ireland from a pagan to a Christian country is an exaggeration, but is not far from the truth.

Almost everything we know about him comes from his own writings, available in English in the Ancient Christian Writers series. He has left us an autobiography (called the Confessio), a Letter to Coroticus in which he denounces the slave trade and rebukes the British chieftain Coroticus for taking part in it, and the Lorica (or "Breastplate" a poem of disputed authorship traditionally attributed to Patrick), a work that has been called "part prayer, part anthem, and part incantation." The Lorica is a truly magnificent hymn, found today in many hymnals (usually abridged by the omission of the two stanzas bracketed below). The translation into English as given here is by Cecil Frances Alexander, whose husband was Archbishop of Armagh, and thus the direct successor of Patrick. She published nearly 400 poems and hymns of her own, including the well-known "There is a green hill far away," "Once in royal David's city," "Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult," and "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small."


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