Patrick’s six-year captivity in Ireland had prepared him for this mission. He knew the language and customs of the country, and could relate to the people. He reaped both joys, with the baptism of “many thousands,” and innumerable sorrows, including beatings, verbal abuses, threats, a kidnapping, and an imprisonment.
Every year, we read articles about the “real” Saint Patrick – the one who didn’t drive out snakes and didn’t use a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His own account of his life, expressed in his Confessions, has become better known, but is still not commonly read. Yet, it holds much interesting information about this fervent missionary.
Born around 389 in a town by the west coast of Britain, Patrick was raised in an affluent Christian family. His father Calpornius was a land-owner and a deacon in the church, who held a position of responsibility in the local government. He lived in a Roman-style villa and had slaves to serve on him.
Everything changed when a band of raiders landed in Patrick’s town and kidnapped sixteen-year old Patrick and a few others in order to sell them as slaves in Ireland. Patrick was bought and assigned to the task of sheep-herder.
Apparently, by that time, Patrick had rejected his Christian faith, but his long hours tending sheep gave him a chance to reflect on what he had been taught. He spent much of his time in prayer (up to a hundred times a day, in fact). This lasted for six years, until he heard in a dream a voice telling him it was time to go home.
Escaping was a dangerous choice. Runaway slaves were usually killed. But the dream convinced Patrick that God would assist him. After a month’s long trek across Ireland (about 180 miles), Patrick reached the sea. By that time, he was probably exhausted and emaciated by the lack of food. Convincing a captain to take him back to Britain was not an easy task.
Eventually, the captain of a ship agreed, maybe with the assumption that free labor, even from a frail young man, was still valuable at a time when many sailors died at sea. Patrick saw it as an answer to his fervent prayers.
A Difficult Calling
Patrick’s overjoyed parents must have been shocked when, a few years after arriving back at home, he expressed his desire to return to Ireland.