“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.”
So begins St. Patrick’s Confessio. Patrick wrote the Confession as an old man after he had spent his life to bring the name of God to the Irish people, and he wrote it to praise God.
“I cannot be silent!” he says: “such great blessings and such a gift the Lord so kindly bestowed on me.”
Such a blessing: that he was captured by pirates when he was only 16 and carried off to a strange land and made a slave; such a gift, his captivity for six long years.
It was a gift, Patrick says, because although his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest back home in England, he wasn’t much of a believer himself.
“I did not know the true God.” But carried off and made a slave “among foreigners,” Patrick says, “I knew how little I was.” In his captivity, in the long hours alone with the sheep, “the Lord opened up my awareness,” the saint writes.
“Before I knew him, he guarded me; he consoled me as a father does his son.”
That is why I cannot be silent, Patrick says. And so he speaks, and so he sings praise to the God he came to love, praise to the God he came to serve, praise to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
For to Patrick, God is always this name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the great name of the Trinity.
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same
The Three-in-One and One-in-Three. (Common Praise 436)
We sing these words in our churches still 1600 years after Patrick first set foot in Ireland as a slave. And they have lost none of their power. St. Patrick’s Breastplate, we call this hymn, because Patrick binds to himself the name of his God, because he wears this name over his heart like armour and like a benediction.
His song helps us to see who God is:
Father: the power of God to hold and lead. The Father whose love watches over us, whose might is with us to stay – to hold back the powers that oppose, that do not sing the name of the Father-God, all powers here and above and below, in our heart and in our lives and in our world, that do not speak the praise of the God who made us.
His the virtues of the starlit heaven! His the glorious sun’s life-giving ray! The whiteness of the moon at even! the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks.
And his son. “And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been,” Patrick says, “since before the beginning of this age, with the Father. Everything we can see and everything beyond our sight was made through him.”
God the son, who became a human being.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation.
God the Son, a child now in Mary’s arms, for our sake. Jesus, the boy, learning – in our chapel window at St. Matthew’s – from Joseph his dad how to hammer home a nail. Jesus the man, calling fishermen to walk with him, loving them, raising them up to be his witnesses, to be healers and teachers and God’s-truth-speakers, women and men of faith walking in the world. Jesus the Son, walking with us for love of us, lifting us up, lifted up on his cross for us. God in the Son being ours, being with us, so that we might be his, so that we might be with him.
Holy Spirit. “The wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward”: God with us in the Holy Spirit, to teach us how to walk, His word to give me speech, that my word might be his.
The Holy Spirit poured out upon us from the heart of Jesus Christ, that we might be with him still, every bit as much as those first disciples were, Peter and James and John and Mary Magdalene and the women who stood with Jesus at the cross – the Spirit poured out from the heart of the living Son of God over our hearts.
That’s what St. Patrick discovered, as he learned to pray.
“After I arrived in Ireland,” he tells us, “I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently. More and more the love of God increased and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved…I even remained in the woods and on the mountain and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it and I never felt lazy!” he adds, winsomely. “As I realize now, the Spirit was burning in me.”
The Holy Spirit guided Patrick all his life. In a dream God told him how to escape, and then in another dream God called him to go back.
“I saw in a vision one night a man coming from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one and I read the beginning, the voice of the Irish people…I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.’”
And so the holy boy went back to the land where he had been a slave.
Patrick went back to Ireland though his friends thought he was crazy. “Why would you put yourself in danger among hostile people who do not know God?” they said. But Patrick had a song to sing.
I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead.
“I am a simple country person, a refugee and unlearned. But this I know for certain,” Patrick says, “that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy pulled me out and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall.”
“How could I not shout aloud to the Lord!” Patrick says, “how could I not tell his great good deeds, here and now and forever.” How could I not proclaim his holy name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Three in One and One in Three.
So Patrick went back to the pagans who had enslaved him and sang his song, so that they too might be children of God.
“Never before did they know of God,” Patrick said. “But now they are called children of the Lord.”
He sang his song to them, and they sing it still; we sing it still, oceans and years away, Patrick’s joy in the Lord.
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation; salvation is of Christ the Lord.