MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, March 13th. Thank you for listening to WORLD Radio! Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Beer, parades, the wearing o’ the green. After Nicholas, no historical saint has had more celebration and legend grow up around him than “Ireland’s apostle,” Patrick.
Yet unlike jolly old Sinterklaas, Patrick left the world an autobiographical record. A new documentary uses it to explore not only his life, but the spread of Christianity at the beginning of the Dark Ages.
CLIP: There’s the image of him driving out snakes from Ireland. The bishop with the mitre and the staff and the crozier. He’s also associated very strongly with the shamrock. People think he’s Irish when, in fact, he’s British. Most of the preconception that we’ve got about Saint Patrick actually mostly is completely wrong.
Few stories boast as much cinematic potential as that of the figure most identified with Ireland but who was actually born a Roman Briton. As Patrick describes his 5th century adolescence in his Confessio, he sounds startlingly similar to countless teens in modern, evangelical families. The spoiled, uncaring son of a wealthy deacon, he sees affluence as his birthright and scoffs at his father’s teaching about sin and salvation.
But, as is so often true, an encounter with suffering draws his heart to his Creator. At age 16, he’s kidnapped and taken to Ireland for six years of punishing captivity. Patrick later writes of how the experience softened his heart and brought about his conversion.
CLIP: There, the Lord opened my understanding to my unbelief. So that, however late, I might become conscious of my failings. Then, remembering my need, I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God. For it was he who looked after me before I knew him. Indeed, as a father consoles his son, so he protected me.
A daring sea escape follows, and at last Patrick’s parents receive him home with rejoicing. They beg him never to leave, but the missionary-minded young man enters ecclesiastical training in Burgundy. He’s determined to return to his oppressors and save them for Christ.
His life becomes no less dramatic once he begins to formally evangelize the Emerald Isle.
Druids and pagan chieftains, who sometimes use violence and threats to stop him from bringing the gospel to the Irish people, are only one of the problems he faces. He also has to contend with a church hierarchy that isn’t sold on some of his unconventional methods.
CLIP: It’s also believed that Patrick ministered in the Irish language instead of Latin and established many monasteries for the ordination of uneducated people. Who is this man to do such things? And who does he think he is? Patrick’s superiors started digging for anything they could find to discredit him.
Other unheard of actions Patrick takes include publicly calling out a wealthy ruler in present-day Scotland who claims to be a follower of Christ yet captures and sells his brothers and sisters from Ireland. This makes him one of the first people in recorded history to condemn the practice of slavery. And he did it on behalf of a people who had enslaved him.
I’m still waiting for a full-scale, big-budget treatment of a life that more than warrants it. But CBN’s new docudrama, I Am Patrick, offers a wonderful substitute.
Perfectly timed for Saint Patrick’s Day, it hits theaters on March 17 and 18 for a special Fathom event. For those who’d prefer to avoid the theater these days, it will likely land on a streaming service shortly after.
Though he’s not on screen nearly as often as we might wish, John Rhys Davis of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Lord of the Rings gives us a stately yet warm-hearted Patrick in his later years. While it’s clear CBN made the film on a tight budget, it easily matches the quality of popular documentaries on the History Channel or National Geographic. My only real criticism is that there isn’t more of it.
As Thomas Cahill laid out in his delightful little book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, without Patrick, there may well have been no Christian Ireland. And without Christian Ireland, countless Bible translations and other early church records would have been lost to marauding Vikings.
CLIP: As Christianity established itself, as it became more vibrant, it became known as the land of saints and scholars and that led in turn to a whole proliferation of Christian missionaries leaving Ireland and flooding continental Europe. Patrick’s story began a chain of events that is quite remarkable in the impact that it had.
It would have been nice if I Am Patrick had spent a little more time setting the saint’s life in this larger context. If it had explicitly explored how God used one faithful shepherd to preserve the light of his Word in the Western world. But even with its tight focus on the two documents Patrick wrote, this is still an engaging and inspiring tale.
So go ahead and enjoy a few green treats in honor of this hero of the faith. But you might also honor his legacy by taking the family out for a viewing of I Am Patrick to learn a little more about the man behind the myth.
(Photo/Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., Flickr CC by NC ND 2.0)
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