Patrick’s Confession (11)
While we were on our journey He provided us with food, fire and dry conditions until, on the tenth day, we met people. As I have indicated above, we travelled for twenty-eight days through the wilderness, and on that night on which we met people, we had truly no food left.
Another time, after a few years, when I was in Britain, my family received me as a son, and asked me whether – after such tribulations as I had undergone – they could trust me now, as a son, never to leave them again. But while I was there, in a night vision, I saw a man coming, as it were, from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish.” As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea – and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
I was pierced with great emotion and could not read on, and so I woke. Thank God that after many years the Lord answered them according to their cry.
I have no reason to doubt Patrick’s testimony about the dream which began to stir in him a call to return to Ireland. How else was God to get His “holy servant boy” to leave the safety of his home in Britain in order to take up residence among the very people from whom he had escaped so many years before?
Some issues of timing arise here. Patrick explains that they encountered people on the tenth night of their sojourn in the wilderness, wherever that may have been. The previous episode, when God provided the pigs, must have occurred after 18 days of journeying. For the next ten days they had ample provisions, but these ran out on the tenth day, when, by God’s grace, they encountered people. Patrick seems to have learned from these timely incidents that God is able to meet the needs of His people, so there is no sense worrying about provision or protection when you are doing the Lord’s work according to His will.
Patrick finally returned home “after a few years.” We do not know what he was doing in those years, but they must not have been of much consequence for his calling and ministry, otherwise, he would surely have reported his experiences. Some have speculated that he found his way to a monastery where he began to study for the priesthood. This seems highly unlikely to me. He was, after all, a high school dropout who knew very little Latin or theology. And if he had been so prepared, we would surely expect him to have included this experience here, and to appeal to it again later on in his Confession as testimony to the validity of his ministry. But he does neither of these.
This second vision built on the previous ones, especially the last, in which Patrick came to believe that the Spirit of God was crying within him. It is possible that he had not yet come to the conclusion that he reported earlier, in which he anticipated a day of “troubles” coming when he would need the Lord to be speaking through him. This second vision must have brought that previous one back with compelling force and perhaps helped him to understand the earlier one a little better.
We can see Patrick’s love for the Irish in his immediate response the visitation from Victoricus. He does not think first of all about himself. He regards this dream as God showing His grace toward the Irish, answering “after many years” what he took to be a persistent cry on their part. Had the Irish among whom he worked as a slave already begun to see evidence of God’s grace in him? Had “holy servant boy” become a name by which Patrick was known among his captors? I think this is likely, and also that some of them had begun to inquire of him concerning his faith, though he doubtless would have struggled to make much sense to them.
Such experiences then may have come back to him following this dream; hence, the “great emotion” he felt in his soul, so strong as to wake him from his sleep. Was this a memory of some emotion he’d felt while still a slave, and not yet able to give an answer to those who were inquiring of him of the hope that was within him?
God was preparing the way for Patrick’s new home among the Irish, and he was able to discern this on the strength of his relationship with God alone. He had no counselors. His family and priests would oppose him. Patrick walked with God in an intimacy we can only wonder at, and the closeness of that walk made it possible for him to “hear” the promptings and discern the guidance of God’s Spirit in the everyday circumstances of his life.
It was the closeness of that walk with the Lord which would ultimately lead Patrick to depart his earthly home in Britain for a new home among the Irish - where he would pursue his heavenly calling and home for the rest of his life.