Patrick’s Confession (20)
And indeed, there was a certain blessed noblewoman, of Scottic origin, mature and beautiful, whom I baptized. A few days later she had reason to come to us; she told us privately that she had received a message from an angel of God who commanded her to become a virgin of Christ and so draw nearer to him. Thanks be to God, just six days after that she embraced in the most excellent and eager way that which all the virgins of God follow. They do not do it with their fathers’ consent; on the contrary they endure harassment and false accusations from their parents. And nonetheless their numbers increase (and we do not know the number of those of our own race who were born there), as well as those of widows and women living in chastity. But it is those who are held in slavery who have most to endure, even to the extent of suffering continual fears and threats. But the Lord has given grace to many of His handmaids, so that they can bravely imitate Him in spite of all prohibitions.
Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World
In this passage Patrick illustrates the kind of response to his preaching which he regularly received. It’s not just that he went up and down the island proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. God honored that preaching and raised up committed followers of Jesus Christ, like the lady described in this passage.
The Latin does not include the phrase “from an angel.” Obviously, this women felt a strong prompting or leading from the Lord to take up the lifestyle of a virgin – a nun (although we bear in mind that the Celtic Church at this period was not formally linked to Roman Catholicism). Did this come to her in a time of prayer and meditation, perhaps even as a vision, as Patrick himself had experienced? She could only have learned such discipline as part of her preparation for baptism, during which time she would have confirmed her faith to herself, her community, and her teacher.
The life of a virgin was a lifelong commitment involving, if the life of Brigid can serve as an example, prayer, preaching, and service to the poor and needy. Here was a woman of nobility, a beautiful woman whose life prospects from a worldly perspective probably could not have been better. But she desired the things of Christ, to draw near to Him and to serve Him by bringing His love to others, more than the pleasures of marriage and the court.
How did she learn to desire the things of Christ more than those of the world? Obviously, something in the way Patrick proclaimed the Gospel and prepared people for baptism gave them a powerful and compelling vision of the Lord and His Kingdom, so that many – as Patrick notes – were willing to forsake everything for the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
There was risk in this, because frequently such young ladies made this commitment and took up the rule of discipline associated with it without seeking their parents’ permission. Patrick reports that persecution often followed, which these women were willing to endure for the sake of the cross. Even girls held captive in slavery were committing themselves to follow Christ and be His virgin handmaids. Here we see that Patrick’s teaching of the Gospel made following Christ not merely a matter of the convent but of faith, obedience, and service in everyday life, regardless of one’s station.
Patrick’s preaching was clear, visionary, and compelling, leading people to forsake everything and to endure hardship for the sake of the Kingdom. We need more such preaching in our day.
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