St. Patrick – Forgiveness
Then Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing“ (Luke 23:34).
His given name was Patricius. Born into a wealthy Roman family in Londinium,* he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to the dark and distant island the Romans knew as Hibernia. He was sold into slavery, made to work as a shepherd, and kept in isolation. In a foreign land and too young to have really been schooled in learning or faith, he was completely alone and left to his own devices. Except, so the story goes, God guided him one day to begin walking to the east.
After numerous adventures, Patricius, now probably a teenager, arrived at a port city and met a sympathetic trader who eventually returned him to his homeland. His family rejoiced and welcomed him home, only to be newly disconcerted. They heard him speak of strange things—a calling for what he would view as the inspiration for his rescue and something even more radical. He now felt he was being called to return to the land of his enslavement to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ—a gospel of healing, reconciliation, and love.
Important training in reading, writing, and the basics of the Christian faith made up for the education Patricius had never been exposed to as a child. But now he shocked and disappointed his family. Patricius returned to the very land of his slavery and began to preach to the kings and tribal leaders that had persecuted him for so many years when he was a boy.
Today, we know Patricius as St. Patrick, and the dark island of Hibernia we know as Ireland. St. Patrick’s ministry changed the history of a divided, warring land. His followers became missionaries who carried the message of God to Scotland, Wales, England, and the rest of Europe at the very time when the faith was on the verge of being lost under wave after wave of barbarian invasions from the 400s to the 700s A.D.
Thomas Cahill, in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, tells this remarkable story of St. Patrick and his ability to hear God’s call with clarity. There were so many perfectly good excuses for not returning to the land that had persecuted him. His family couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t simply stay with them and rejoin the aristocratic life he had been so tragically ripped from. But the power of God’s reconciling hope and the pull of God’s redeeming grace changed Patricius, as it can change us. For those willing to hear God’s sometimes discomforting, sometimes confusing call, to forgive in the face of hatred, to reconcile in the throws of hostility, to trust against the odds in the holy, risky love of God—the rewards can be transformative.
You may need to take a risk this week. God can use you to make a difference. Listen, respond, and live in the hopes and dreams of God for positive change in you and for those around you.
(This devotional appears in my 2012 book, Approaching the Presence: A Year for Living Faithfully, p. 64-65).
*Londinium was the largest city in the Roman province of Britannia, controlled by Rome from 43 AD to 410 AD. London, England is the modern descendant of this ancient city.
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