From calling to mission, the story of St. Patrick and what his life may have been. Part I
|I had a dream.
I was in another land, place, and time. The landscape before me was desolate; rugged with hills and valleys, rivers and streams, with many trees dotting the hillside and fields around me.
I stood alone, with not a person in sight and the only sound was the wind whistling overs hills and through branches.
Suddenly, there was a voice to accompany the wind. It sounded sad and alone and the melancholy filled with air-or perhaps it was sounded to match that of the land. It started as a whisper, but as I listened it became louder and the noise became words:
In myself, I felt my spirit stir and a great wail could be heard mingling with the cry of the other. A hammer sounded pounding against metal and then the clanging of chain against chain. The noise became so loud, melding into a tumultuous sound that filled my ears-and then suddenly there was no more.
Silence, unlike any other, descended.
Then a firm voice: “Go”.
I awoke with a start, finding myself back in my bed and drenched with sweat. Sitting up I looked towards the shutters to see a thin line of moonlight slipping beneath the crack. Finding myself in need of air I threw my blanket from me and padded over to the window. I opened the shutters wide and breathed deep the air. The land was still asleep, but I was wide awake. My dream had been just a dream and yet, just like before, it was so real.
I remembered again the dream I had, so similar, several years before.
I was in my homeland after spending so many years so very far away. I was younger then and the scars of ill treatment still weighed on my heart. One night I had a dream, so very similar in nature but in it I wasn’t alone, instead there was a man who I had known as Victor. He came bearing scrolls and without a word handed me one. Confused, I unrolled it and at the top of the letter it read ‘The voice of the Irish.’ An emotion that I could not name in mere words had rolled over me and I heard the words “Come back and walk among us”.
When I woke up, I had known exactly what I needed to do.
Just like now
There had been many questions then, from family and friend alike. The foremost in my mind was how I could possibly return to the land of my slavery? How could I ever walk among a people who were so pagan in nature, so harsh in their behaviours. Yet there was no question that I had to go, for unless I was in the Will of God, I had no peace.
But I also had no education: the opportunities that had been afforded me in a wealthy family were gone thanks to my enslavement. So for the next several years I studied the Scriptures in Auxerre, and bided my time until the right moment.
That moment was now.
“I am going Titus” I told my friend later that day. “I have received the blessing”
“Indeed Bishop Patricus” he replied with a grin. Titus was a few years my junior, yet also a man who had become my closest friend these several years as we studied. He knew well my hopes and dreams and, while our lives were very different, we both knew what it meant to grow up without our family close by and this understanding had made us close.
“Don’t joke” I told him, “in truth I don’t wish to be bishop. I don’t deserve such a title to begin with, but its also an authority I rather not have! DO not think I will be making my title known.”
“Of course not. You are too humble for that! But it will give you an advantage among the church in Éirn”
“Oh aye” I replied dryly, “especially among a foreign and pagan people who hardly know right from wrong!”
“I will pray for you brother-” he replied good-naturedly.
“I will need it”
-Especially as I am going with you”
I stared at him, aghast, “you are?”
“Well you cannot start a church on your own. More than that, who else is going to keep you straight?”
The first sight of the rugged coastland of Érin brought back a swirl of emotion: for so long I had been preparing for this moment, I hardly knew how to comprehend than this was it. Here I was again, in a place that had caused me much sorrow and anger and yet had cultivated me into a man.
A memory came to me of a youth, confused, bitter and lost. He was in chains among other similar to himself, all fearful of what was happening or as to where they were going so far from their homeland. There had been much tears and few words.
That lad had been me, at sixteen.
All I could think about was the sight of my parents beaten, home invaded and wealth stolen. In a few brief moments I had lost everything; my own body was bruised, hungry and cold. I felt utterly alone and it was all I could do to not throw myself overboard into the sea. Rough hands had thrust me into an unknown world of slavery, where the wind howled every way you went and the damp would cling to me seeming to, if possible, sink into my very bones. From arrival, I had been forced to walk miles, cross rivers, pass valleys and hike over hills, until I finally came to the one who would be called master; brought to serve as a sheep herder. I would sleep wherever the flock were, whether the ground was rocky or cold, beneath star or rain cloud, until the day finally came, when I could leave.
And during that time all I could think about was how I could escape my fate.
Until I encountered Him.
Now here I was, albeit changed, older, free and with a new perspective on the land that had once held me as a slave. The landscape looked much the same, covered in a forest of emerald green. Cliffs stretched out, barren and a cascade of rocks covered the shoreline, mixed with moss and sand. As we rowed inland I could smell peat and woodsmoke mingled together to make a powerful scent. The wind was cool, carrying a drizzle of rain which kissed my skin as if in greeting. A strange sensation came over me as I took my first steps back onto Ireland’s land: one of both apprehension and excitement. I gazed out on what was known as the Wicklow mountains: wide and looming they seemed to hide the rest of the country.
“It’s said there are Christians living near here” Titus said coming beside me, his gaze following mine.
“With hills like these, they could be anywhere” I replied.
The next morning greeted us with wind and rain, coming from off the sea: no matter how far we walked it seemed to follow us. In my mind turned memories: walking for hours on end, footsore and weary; guttural languages from my captors and tears from the slaves; the smell of the sea and the sound of wind rushing through trees. How things had changed! Whereas before, I was lost; now I was certain of my purpose, before everything was foreign and now, I felt like I was on stable ground.
While we walked north, I had yet to tell my companions my plan which was still being stirred in my mind, and yet they quietly followed my lead, commenting now and then on one things or another that they noticed. To the northwest of us lay the ‘centre’ of Ireland: cloaked with fields and flooded with gentle, sloping hills; but amid this was one hill of more prominence than any other: the hill of Tara. Besides a location of religious rituals, the High King was also crowned there on the Lia Fáil; and lesser kings would meet with him in different seasons to discuss the year’s affairs and pay tribute. Not far from the gaze of Tara, the High King resided and it was with him that I decided to begin my mission.
By midday we stopped to rest and I decided now was the time to share with them my thoughts:
“The people of Éiru are a fickle people” I began, “They live in tribes and often war with one another. However, they do look to strong leadership. From my time here I remember that when a Chieftain could not settle a matter, they would look to the King, and he in turn would answer to the High King.
‘It is he hat we must go to. We can share the Truth with the people, but if we do not have acceptance with the High King, we will face unnecessary trials. With the blessing of the King, we will also have safety from danger” I added.
A few murmurs of dissent rose from my companions.
“Will it not be difficult to gain an audience with the King?" Tomás-the youngest of our group, asked hesitantly. I smiled, instantly catching his line of thought-he was thinking of the regal monarchy of Rome or Gaul.
“No my friend, this King has authority, but he is not so lofty in his position, nor removed from the people, that it is hard to see him. We should gain an audience with him easily enough.”
I pointed towards the west of us. “We have been travelling North but not we must slightly adjust our course. Just through those woods and over the hills, we will come to a valley. There, beneath the gaze of ancient Tara, resides the High King of Érin. There my friends, our future will be decided.”
End Of Part I