He Is Captured and Carried Off To Ireland
Patrick was taken captive. He was snatched away from his comfortable home, just before his sixteenth birthday. It all happened very suddenly. A ship came over from Ireland, in search of plunder and slave-labour. Slaves were valuable. They could be sold for gold and precious stones or used as labourers on the land with farmers as their masters. Patrick was not the only one to be seized and taken on board that fateful day. A whole gang of captives was bundled into the ship. They were tied up and carried off to Ireland by force. Patrick wrote that he was one among thousands kidnapped that day.
To Be a Slave
Next we hear of him far away in the west of Ireland. He was engaged by his new master to work on a farm which seems to have been near ‘the woods of Foclut by the western sea; in Co. Mayo. This is the only place in Ireland that Patrick mentions. He says nothing about Tara, Slemish, Downpatrick or Armagh, often associated with him. He had to look after the sheep. He was responsible for protecting the flock from savage attacks by wild animals. If some sheep wandered away and lost in the woods or on the mountain, Patrick would have o search for them. It was a hard life working outdoors in all kinds of weather.
To Find a Faith
He felt the loneliness of it all. Yet, the long hours spent on his own gave him many opportunities to think about life and the future. He was written that he began to think about God in quite a new way. Through his thoughts and his prayers he came to know God as a friend and companion. He said as many as a hundred prayers every day.
Prayer Was His Life
Through these prayers he kept a conversation going with God while on his own under the open sky. He admitted that when he was a boy at home God had seemed very far away. ‘I did not know the true God,’ he tells us. Now things were different, even on a sharp frosty nights when he sheltered in his little shepherd’s hut, he would feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit’s power in his veins and through his whole body. Many years after his death, the prayers he used were woven into a song called ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ (the ‘Lorica’). These words echoed Patrick’s feelings and experiences. They have a lovely rhythm and are often sung today.
Christ be within me,
Christ be beside me,
Christ be behind me,
Christ be before me.
They catch the spirit of his newly found faith.
Patrick – A New Man
He found the creed, which he had learned by heart as a boy, coming to life in a remarkable way. His experiences were teaching him fresh things about God’s love and protection. He was not afraid any more. His trust in God and his love for Him drove away his old fears.
Patrick found it very difficult to put these spiritual experiences into words. He felt that if he had been fully educated he could have explained to others something of the joy and confidence he had in believing God and in trusting Him. He took courage from the description of Isaiah’s feelings when that great prophet wrote about ‘the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly’.
Patrick certainly knew the scriptures. He was also able to express himself in writing and hardly deserves to be called ‘ignorant’. He thought of himself as a country fellow and used country expressions so that he might be better understood by his readers.
Patrick’s prayers came from the heart. They helped him to keep up his courage in the work he had to do. Soon a vision of his future came to him while he slept. He believed that he really deserved the life of a slave in captivity because in his youth his life had been full of faults and failures. Now he was beginning to see how much the hard life was teaching him. He knew in his heart that God was showing him the right way.
In one particular vision, he saw himself as a lifeless, useless stone, stuck in the mud and unable to move. Then something happened. Patrick described his dream: ‘He that is mighty’, he wrote, ‘took hold of me, lifted me out of the mud, and set me up on top of the wall.’ The stone that was Patrick had fallen off the wall and was now put back in an important place. Was there stony country all round him as in the west of Ireland today? It looked as if, with God’s help and not through any special cleverness on Patrick’s part, he was being chosen for some responsible work in the future. He was marked out to be a leader.
More visions and dreams were to follow. He wrote about these vivid and lively thoughts which chased through his mind while he slept. These visions were like pictures. The longer he looked at them, the more details he saw. A dream is often very puzzling and fleeting at first. Gradually its meaning becomes clearer. Patrick began to feel very sure that he was being shown the way forward, step by step, into the unknown future that lay before him.