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Come and Walk Among us Once More: A Spiritual Study of Saint Patrick's Confessio

ESSAY / by Allison Ramirez

In 2019, I traveled to Ireland with my mother following my graduation from undergrad university. My own Irish heritage and mother’s maiden name ‘McHugh’ prompted this trip to see the homeland of our ancestors. Following our twelve-day trip, I was inspired to learn more about this beautiful country rich in history and flavor, especially of her patron, Saint Patrick. At the end of his life, St. Patrick composes his Confessions (Confessio) by which he accounts his own spiritual conversion, life of missionary work, and the immense graces of God in equipping him with such an undeserved vocation of evangelizing the Christian faith to the Irish pagans in the 300s. St. Patrick’s humble and unassuming tone perpetuate his Confessions as he continually regards himself as a simple and uneducated man sustained completely by the Lord. In my reflections, I’d like to touch on four key contributions Patrick’s Confessions makes to the spiritual life: (1) the necessity of the Father, (2) how to live as an exile in union with creation, (3) the significance of the sanctifying work of the spirit, (4) and the confidence one gains in having knowledge of scripture.

The opening lines of St. Patrick’s Confessions read as follows: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” [1] The focus of Patrick’s work is to make clear to the reader that God does not call the equipped so much as he equips the called. St. Patrick leads with belief in his nothingness. Without the power and presence of God to guide him—to a people on the outskirts of the known world greatly requiring the role of a father and the strength of one living in exile among creation, armed with the spirit and knowledge of the scriptures—he would have utterly failed in the task he had been given. St. Patrick recognizes all glory belongs to the Trinity: the providing Father, the redeeming Son, and the convicting Spirit who makes true conversion possible in the hearts of men.

In the words of author Phillip Campbell from his book, The Church and the Dark Ages, “The Irish were considered a place on the fringes of the known world…” [2] And yet God was at work, stirring in the hearts of a seemingly wild and hardened people, as seen by “the fruit of St. Patrick’s labors most evident in the zeal with which new Irish converts themselves became missionaries for the Gospel…departing for all corners of the known world.” [3] St. Patrick ministered to a pagan people and, over the years, with humble obedience and unwavering commitment to the task set before him, lead with the Spirit a people toward Christian identity and evangelistic zeal. The Irish, once on the fringes, became those boldly moving and proclaiming Christ throughout the world.

The first spiritual contribution made in the Confessions is the necessity of the Father. St. Patrick begins, “My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniae,” In recounting his personal history, the first detail Patrick chooses to reveal is the identity of his earthly father, his father’s role, and the location of his father’s dwelling. As Christians, the first truth we should want others to know about us is that we are children of the eternal Father whose role is sovereign creator and whose dwelling lies in Heaven. St. Patrick recognizes the foundational need of all people for a good father. If we are not blessed with a good father here on Earth, then assuredly we have our heavenly Father. Patrick recounts God’s role in his youth: “He who had mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guided me, and comforted me as would a father his son.” [4] He affirms God “to have always been with the Father,” [5] and that “a wise son is the glory of his father.” [6]

Patrick’s love for his own father manifests in his difficulty in leaving his parents behind to minister in Ireland. The Catholic News Agency in publishing an article titled: “St. Patrick of Ireland,” recognizes Patrick’s role as a tireless spiritual father amongst the newly converted Irish when: “He was assigned to minister to the small, Christian communities in Ireland who lacked a central authority and were isolated from one another.” [7] A good father is a leader who can safeguard truth and hold together what would otherwise remain separated. God accomplishes unity amongst the Irish through the priestly fatherhood of St. Patrick. We should call to mind and seek refuge and protection in the arms of our heavenly Father as St. Patrick did.

The second spiritual contribution St. Patrick’s Confessions offers is how to live as an exile in union with creation. As a youth, Patrick was taken captive by the Irish away from his home country Britain. He spent the next six years outdoors as a shepherd. He used this time outdoors and exiled from his home to grow in great virtue and trust in God. Patrick writes: “I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, …sometimes more than a hundred prayers a day…through snow, through frost, through rain.” [8] This saint found conversion of heart toward God in these years within nature and as an exile in a foreign land.

Even when he was finally able to return home, Patrick notes, “We traveled twenty-eight days through deserted country” [9] battling the elements by boat and land. His time at home is short lived, as he eventually is called by God to return to Ireland, “to know God and to love Him, although at the price of leaving my country and my parents.” [10] In carrying out his calling, St. Patrick teaches us that we may dwell where we would rather not. We may have to step outside our comfort zone in serving people who treat us with contempt. We may also be called to serve Christ in creation, as reflected in the following verse of St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer: “I arise today, through the strength of heaven / the light of the sun / the radiance of the moon / the splendor of fire / the speed of lightning / the swiftness of wind / the depth of the sea / the stability of the earth / the firmness of rock.”

When we are in nature, Christ’s presence can be felt just as in the scriptures where He was so often encountered by others on the mountains or by the sea. In the Ascension Presents video, “The Real Story of St. Patrick,” Bobby Angel, recalls his visit to Ireland in college where he barefoot climbed the mountain Croagh Patrick, stating: “This mountain is where St. Patrick is said to have often climbed to pray for forty days and forty nights in imitation of Jesus and Moses. Patrick was spiritually attacked, hit by the elements and wind, the cold temperatures and harshness of the rocks.” [11] The physical world can be a place and opportunity for growing in perseverance, encountering and drawing near to the living God as Christ drew near to his Father and St. Patrick drew near to Christ.

The third spiritual contribution we can glean from the Confessions is the significance of the sanctifying work of the spirit. St. Patrick speaks often of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit throughout his years of ministry. Speaking first of his time as a slave in Ireland, he expresses how during that initial time in captivity: “I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me—as I now see, because the spirit within me was then fervent.” [12] Reflecting further on the influence of those slavery years, Patrick recognizes: “I must not hide God’s gift which He bestowed upon me in the land of my captivity; because then I earnestly sought Him, and there I found Him, and He saved me from all evil because—so I believe—of His Spirit that dwells in me.” [13] It was through the influence of the Spirit working in his heart, that St. Patrick became not vengeful or bitter as a result of these trying years, but instead a man of profound faith and hope.

As he grew in virtue and faith, Satan would try to prevent him and torment him in his spiritual progress. St. Patrick attests that during those times: “I believe that I was sustained by Christ my Lord, and that His Spirit was even then crying out in my behalf.” [14] On many nights after returning to his British homeland, Patrick heard the voice of one speaking within him. He was astonished and wondered who it was speaking for him on his behalf. He writes: “At the end of the prayer [the voice] spoke, saying that He was the Spirit; and I awoke and remembered the apostle saying: ‘The Spirit helps the infirmities of our prayer…He asks for us with unspeakable groanings, that which cannot be expressed in words.’” [15]

In each of these examples from Patrick’s life, the spirit sustains and aids in perseverance when one feels bound, He defends and protects from spiritual attack, and he speaks on our behalf the words we cannot utter on our own. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God’s works, is the master of prayer.” [16]St. Patrick truly prayed without ceasing at all hours of the day, and in his abundance of time spent in creation, the Spirit was also active. Quoting again from the Catechism: “It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation.” [17] St. Patrick attributed the Holy Spirit to equipping him with the knowledge, strength, and words needed to evangelize to a people whose language and customs he struggled to understand. The Holy Spirit serves as a unifier, and He chiefly inspires the scriptures of which St. Patrick learned and held close.

The fourth spiritual contribution from the Confessions is the confidence one gains in having true knowledge of scripture. Throughout his spiritual work, though Patrick admits to having limited formal instruction in the law and scriptures, he readily cites scripture and prioritizes clothing himself in God’s word. Patrick quotes from the prophets, the psalms, and the gospels in particular. I was reminded of a timeless quote from St. Jerome that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. After being moved by the Spirit to prayer and conversion during his time as a sheepherder, Patrick returns home from his time in captivity and undergoes schooling and training to become a priest and eventually a bishop.

Through these experiences, he comes to embody the heart of the gospel which is the knowledge and love of Christ in total adherence to His personhood. St. Patrick admits that following his theological study in Britain and ordination to the priesthood, “I did not [return] to Ireland for my own accord, not until I had nearly perished; but this was rather for my good, for thus was I 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.” [18] St. Patrick’s greatest tools for his mission were the movement of the Spirit, the graces he has received in his priesthood, and the belief in the power and truth of scripture.

In immersing oneself in God’s word, we come to know with greater certainty what he desires of us, that is, for our hearts to become one with his: purged from sin and earthly attachments and comforts for the sake of striving for the conversion of other hearts, even at the extent of forgoing one’s self. St. Patrick does this by giving up his homeland and family for the sake of taking up the cross of Christ in ministering to a pagan land with the words of the gospel as his guide to go out to all nations, preaching and baptizing in the name of the Trinity. In his Confessions the roles of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are articulated as well as reflected in the popular tradition of Patrick utilizing the three-clover shamrock as a symbol to explain the Trinity to the Irish. St. Patrick may not have been as well-versed in the scriptures as he believed other clergy and theologians to be, nevertheless the heart of God’s word was well understood and alive in his life as he drew upon the words of Christ who promised to be with us to the end of the age as we preach the gospel to every creature.

In conclusion, St. Patrick’s Confessions invite readers into the spiritual challenge of being exiles in this world who does not understand or is antagonistic toward Christ. While remaining exiles, we are encouraged both to seek out and bring Christ’s presence to the world. May our spiritual growth and prayer be emulative of St. Patrick’s words: “Although I am imperfect in many things, I nevertheless wish that my brethren and kinsmen should know what sort of person I am, so that they may understand my heart’s desire.” [19] This heart’s desire is to live in love, doing the will of the Father, proclaiming the name of the Son, and persevering in all things by the kindling power of the Spirit.


Angel, Bobby. “The Real Story of St. Patrick.” Ascension Presents. March 17, 2023. Educational video, 3:02-3:35. (458) The Real Story of St. Patrick - YouTube

Author Unknown, “Saint Patrick of Ireland” (EWTN, Irondale, AL) St. Patrick of Ireland (

Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.

John A. Hardon, S.J., The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1987).

Phillip Campbell, The Church and the Dark Ages (430-1027): St. Benedict, Charlemagne, and the Rise of Christendom (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2021).

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. New York: Collins, 1971.

[1] St. Patrick, "Confession" at John A. Hardon, The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1995), 149. [2] Phillip Campbell, The Church and the Dark Ages (430-1027): St. Benedict, Charlemagne, and the Rise of Christendom (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2021), 46. [3] Campbell, The Church and the Dark Ages (430-1027), 48. [4] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 149. [5] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 149. [6] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 157. [7] Author Unknown, “Saint Patrick of Ireland” (EWTN, Irondale, AL) St. Patrick of Ireland ( [8] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 151. [9] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 152. [10] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 155. [11] Angel, Bobby. “The Real Story of St. Patrick.” Ascension Presents. March 17, 2023. Educational video, 3:02-3:35. (458) The Real Story of St. Patrick - YouTube [12] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 151. [13]St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 154. [14] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 152. [15] St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 153. [16] CCC: #741 [17] CCC: #703 [18]St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 154. [19]St. Patrick, "Confession" The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 150.

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