Friday 20 March 2015

Saint Patrick, a Man in whom the Spirit Prayed

People may say — " He is almost a myth — who knows anything about him." His birthplace, his grave, are uncertain. Old writers have woven a tissue of doubtful miracles for his fame, and who can say what the real man was.'' " But a man lives on in his own words, and in nothing material is he so immortal as in his letters. 

To know Patrick you must read his Confession, and his flaming, righteously angry letter to Coroticus. In the Confession we get the real man beyond any doubt, as we find St. Paul in his own Epistles. 

You may be disappointed to find so few of the facts of his life in the Confession, but you find a man's spirit, hurt with the wounds given to him by distrust and harsh criticism from his friends. You find a man very humble about his failures, about his lack of scholarship, yet proud, with head held high, in his vocation and in his conscious honesty of purpose. You find, too, what we might forget in the man of endless business and determined fighting, the man of prayer. 

There was the vision and the call, given in his own words: "We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk once more amongst us." " And on another night, whether within or beside me I know not, God knoweth, in the clearest words, which I heard but could not understand until the end of the prayer. He spoke out thus: 'He who laid down His life for thee. He it is who speaketh within thee.'  And so I awoke full of joy. And once more I saw Him praying in me and He was as it were within my body; and I heard Him over me, that is over the interior man; and there strongly He prayed with groanings. And meanwhile I was astonished and marvelled and considered who it was who prayed within me; but at the end of the prayer He spoke out to the effect that He was the Spirit; and so I awoke and remembered the Apostle saying: 'The Spirit helpeth the infirmities of our prayer. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings which cannot be uttered in words.' " 

This is the spirit of the man who spent forty days and nights on Croagh Patrick, striving for the salvation of his chosen country. The old legends of his bargain with the Almighty is like a mist on the mountain. This man in whom the Spirit prayed was a greater than his chroniclers could estimate.

Winifred M. Letts, Saint Patrick, The Travelling Man (Edinburgh, 1932), 13-14.

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