MagazineOn File

‘Before God and Men’

This month, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Chicago will literally dye a river green. College students will—well, they will do what they do. People will wear green to work and to school and other people who forget to do so will suffer a pinch or two.

However, there’s a forgotten story amid all the friendly banter, a story that’s both profound and simple. It’s a story that shows us how grace plays out through suffering. It’s a story that shows us how blessing comes from obedience, not circumstance.

 “Cast thy thought upon God, and He shall sustain thee.” — John A. Hardon (1987)

A parishioner leaves clovers by the statue of St. Patrick at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, following a St. Patrick's Day mass.

A parishioner leaves clovers by the statue of St. Patrick at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, following a St. Patrick’s Day mass.

At the age of six, a boy who would become a people’s saint was abducted from his home in Scotland and taken to an island. Enslaved on this island, the boy named Patrick was enlisted as a shepherd. Days and weeks on end, he walked through the woods and mountains of Ireland with the sheep, through rain and snow, in daylight and at night, alone with his animals and his thoughts. This is when Patrick began to pray earnestly. He writes, “And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night…because the Spirit within me was fervent.”
—The Confession of St. Patrick (1996)

One night, Patrick ran, fueled by a voice in his head that said “See, your ship is ready.” Patrick traveled 200 miles and found a ship willing to give him passage. But when they found land, he was once again taken captive, this time for two months. Freeded from captivity, for the next two years, he found fellowship, followed by traumatic spiritual assault within an order of priests. Ever confident that God had greater purpose in mind for him than suffering, Patrick endured.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim.”

Patrick continued to face rejection
from spiritual leaders and close friends. He doesn’t go into tremendous detail about these experiences in The Confession, but instead he grows more and more confident in God’s presence and purposes for his life.

Rather than dwelling on all the pain and struggle he had endured, Patrick writes, “I did not go to Ireland of my own accord, not until I had nearly perished; but this was rather for my good, for thus was I purged by the Lord; and He made me fit so that I might be now what was once far from me that I should care and labor for the salvation of others, whereas then I did not even care about myself.” In the midst of his own misfortune, he clung to higher purposes and found divine meaning and motivation in every moment.

Throughout The Confession, Patrick continually writes from a humble place. “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” He often asks “Who am I to…?” and he perpetually refers to his own inadequacies in education, training, and knowledge. Yet his words are full of wisdom and experience.

“Therefore I give Him thanks who hath strengthened me in everything, as He did not frustrate the journey upon which I had decided, and the work which I had learned from Christ my Lord; but I rather felt after this no little strength, and my trust was proved right before God and men.” 

After studying in Britain and Europe, Patrick would go back to Ireland as a missionary. He is said to have baptized thousands. He built churches in towns and villages that had been dedicated to pagan worship. He would return to the place where he had found so much pain and rejection with a message of hope, redemption, and grace.

The Catholic Church has never officially “canonized” Patrick as a “saint.” However, his name is on the “List of Saints” and his undeniable influence has endured the test of time. Catholic writer Anita McSorley says, “And so it was that a young Briton named Patricius died an Irishman named Patrick. And neither Ireland nor Christianity was ever quite the same.”

So on St. Patrick’s Day when you wear your green sweater or that shamrock pin, may you also be guided to a faith that is unshakeable. Whether you pinch, or are pinched, may you also be reminded of a God that is faithful to each of us.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim.”

by Chris Stoker

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