The Scriptorium

The Essence of Faith

Patrick's faith became a template for generations of Irish monks, missionaries, and ordinary believers.

Patrick's Confession (7)

And it was there in fact that one night, in my sleep, I heard a voice saying to me: "It is good that you fast, who will go soon to your homeland." And again, after a short space of time I heard the pronouncement: "Look! Your ship is ready."

And it was not nearby, but was, as it happened, two hundred miles away. I had never been there, and I knew not a person there. And shortly aterwards I fled from that place, leaving the man with whom I had been for six years. I travelled with the aid of God's power, Who guided me successfully on my way, and I had nothing to fear, until I arrived at that ship.

Translation Liam Da Paor, St. Patrick's World

The proper response to grace is faith. When God extends His grace to His chosen ones, they will respond in faith, leading to obedience. Patrick had lived a life of disobedience, but he saw it as an act of divine judgment and mercy that God had allowed him to be taken captive and sold into slavery in Ireland. Patrick's deep sense of divine providence, doubtless instilled subconsciously by his earlier exposure to Christian teaching, helped him to see the hand of God in his enslavement. He responded to this gracious act of God by obedience, as he began to seek the Lord, even as he served his in the Wood of Foclut.

For six years Patrick served as a slave. For six years he sought the Lord, through earnest prayers and fasting, and grew stronger in his reliance upon Him. Faith in God required of Patrick for those six years that he diligently seek the Lord and faithfully attend to his daily duties. When God's plan for him was ready to go to the next phase, He would let his servant know.

Which He did through a dream. It's not clear whether the two visitations Patrick mentions in this paragraph came on the same night or on separate occasions. The "short space of time" suggests that it was the same night. Perhaps he awoke from the first dream, startled by the word which indicated he would be going home soon. Upon falling back to sleep the voice came again, with more urgency. Patrick seems to have understood that he was to go right then.

His testimony at this point reminds us of the call of Abram (Gen. 12.1-3). He did not know where he was going, nor how far away it might be (since he had no knowledge of Ireland other than the Wood of Foclut). He struck out toward the east, doubtless assuming that whatever ship God might have prepared for him would be on that coast, nearer to his home in the west of Britain. He probably travelled by night, since he was a runaway slave and undoubtedly risked re-capture were he discovered. He could only trust in the Lord, Who, he explains, guided him on his way - we're not sure how - and aided him, doubtless by providing food, shelter, and protection from being discovered. Patrick's faith in divine providence, which had sustained and strengthened him for six years, now allowed him to trust God for each day's needs as he followed the Lord's call.

Patrick did not fear to obey the voice of God. True faith fears only the Lord. Amazed by the grace of God - all the daily, continuous, unmerited manifestations of His steadfast love and faithfulness - true faith at once recognizes the Lord's voice and begins immediately to move in the direction obedience requires. True faith does not need to know all the details at the outset - which ship? what harbor? precisely when? It simply needs to discern the next step and then, trusting God for each subsequent part of the journey, to continue until the Lord unfolds the next portion of His diviine plan.

Patrick's faith became a template for generations of Irish monks, missionaries, and ordinary believers whose faith led them to a lived witness for Christ in every aspect of their lives.

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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