As St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated this weekend with green rivers and green beer and other Irish and pseudo-Irish activities, I felt it was appropriate to read the original St. Patrick’s autobiography tonight, his Confession. It was written near the end of his life, perhaps in response to accusations against his character. The character he shows in writing the Confession though, has much to teach us about pastoral/missionary/church-planting vocations today. After all, Patrick was a missionary and church-planter. He claims to have baptized “thousands” of people in Ireland and is traditionally given credit for being the father of Irish Christianity.
Here are the characteristics I saw in Patrick from which today’s pastors and missionaries could learn much:
1) Patrick was humble. He begins his Confession with the words, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” The next several paragraphs are spent talking about how he’s uneducated and a poor writer. He talks about his failures more than his successes, sharing how the failures and trials were used for good: “thus I was purged by the Lord and He made me fit so that I might be now what was once far from me – that I should care and labor for the salvation of others, whereas then I did not even care about myself.” When he does mention his successes, he is quick attribute them to God working through him, never his own strength.
2) Patrick knew scripture inside and out. The edition of the Confession which I’m citing here (printed in Readings in World Christian History: Vol. I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, eds. Coakley and Sterk [Orbis: 2004] pgs 221-228, taken from The Works of Patrick, ed. and trans. Ludwig Beilder [Newman: 1953]) italicizes everything that is allusion to scripture and cites with parentheses every direct quote. He can’t go more than a few sentences without quoting the Bible! He interprets every major event of his life in terms of scripture. It becomes clear as you read that Patrick was not just a person who knew scripture academically, but that he was one who had been formed and profoundly changed as a person by his knowledge of scripture.
3) Patrick was a man of prayer. As a teenage shepherd, long before he was a minister, he recounts praying hundreds of separate prayers each day. He shares about fasting, visions, and spiritual warfare. At one point, he even talks about seeing Jesus praying inside him, within his own body. Prayer shaped Patrick and his ministry.
4) Patrick loved his flock. Though from Britain and originally a slave in Ireland, Patrick loved the Irish and was committed to stand by them. Despite longings to go home to Britain or to visit Gaul, he could not abandon his call to stay in Ireland for the rest of his life. Patrick was committed to and loved the people entrusted to his care. He writes, “as regards the heathen among whom I live, I have been faithful to them, and so shall I be.”
5) Patrick did not seek his own gain. Several times near the end of the Confession, Patrick insists that he never charged fees for the ministry he performed. He writes, “I know perfectly well, though not by my own judgment, that poverty and misfortune becomes me better than riches and pleasures. For Christ the Lord, too, was poor for our sakes; and I, unhappy wretch that I am, have no wealth even if I wished for it.” Patrick knew that he was not called to profit from the gospel, but to give his life freely in service of One who had given him new life.