On March 17 and 18, I Am Patrick, a movie on the life of Saint Patrick, will have a limited theatrical release before showing on Netflix.
Much like a papal encyclical, the title of the film comes from the first words of Patrick’s Confessio where he introduces the reader to the story of his life with the words: “I am Patrick, I am a sinner, the most unsophisticated and least among all Christians.” In my view, the movie is the best effort yet to tell the story of one of the most fascinating saints of the early Church, whose missionary successes in Ireland influenced millions and continues to do so to this day.
I am proud to be associated with this film. In 2013, I completed my doctoral thesis with a work entitled: “The Experience of God in the Writings of Saint Patrick.” In this study, I explored the two letters of St Patrick (The Epistola and later Confessio) from a scriptural, theological, and spiritual perspective. Yet it was not just his words but his story that always enchanted me ever since I first heard it, as a young boy growing up in Ireland.
On the completion of my work, I was delighted to share the story of Patrick to a wider audience outside Ireland, albeit in an academic setting. Roll on a few years to the spring of 2018 when I received a call from the US from Mr. Jarod Anderson, a movie director from the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Jarod explained to me that he and his team were making a film on the life of St. Patrick and were interested in talking to me during a tour of Ireland, where they would be filming. Some of this commentary from a three-and-a-half hour interview is included in the final cut.
To see the film finally in release is a great joy and a unique opportunity to remind ourselves of the story of Patrick’s life, which was transformed by God’s grace. The film focuses on the authentic events from his life as told by himself, and so cuts through the layers of spurious legends about him that have obscured the real historical figure that he was and often confuses how we celebrate him (with costumes, parades, and pageants) each year on the seventeenth of March.
The great strength of the film is the presentation of Patrick not as a plaster saint or caricature but as a genuine person in whose fascinating life the “theo-drama” was played out for us to see. Here I mention some of the categories of that theo-drama and how relevant they remain in our lives that are also united to God’s grace.
First, his six years of exile and suffering as a young man in Ireland, taken captive as a slave at sixteen. In that time of trial, Patrick turned back to his faith for meaning and began to be moved by the Holy Spirit, which he described as being “fervent” within him (Confessio 16). Through a deep engagement with prayer he came to know God as Father and himself as son. Here Patrick teaches us to see everything, even suffering, as falling under the rubric of God’s providence. Once we avoid bitterness and despair, suffering and trials can invite us to a deeper trust in God, a growing friendship with him, and a confidence that during every trial God’s purposes are moving to their fulfillment.
Second, Patrick’s mission to the Irish was marked by mercy. He returned to be with a people who took away his youth. After all he suffered, we could understand if Patrick never wanted to go back again. And yet he did, to be with the Irish, to serve them and love them. In his own words: “It is within me that holy mercy arises which I show towards this people—a people who once took me prisoner” (Epistola 10). There is so much by way of example in this for us. Our efforts to evangelize flow from love of a people, even when they are difficult to love, challenging to know. If we don’t love them we won’t succeed.
Christ Before, Christ Behind
Third, Patrick modeled his life of service on Jesus Christ. He contemplated the sacrifice of Christ for his people “for whom he died and was crucified” (Epistola 7). Patrick wanted to be a missionary—an incarnational one, like Jesus, setting his tent among the Irish, “for Christ the Lord too was poor for our sakes” (Confessio 55). Another valuable lesson here for us: preaching Christ crucified and risen today invites us to model our faith on the God who empties himself into the depths of human existence in order to unite himself with us. We may all be more attracted to a glorified Christ who fits neatly into the hopes and dreams of modern man, but his cross blows any neat system wide apart.
Lastly, Patrick teaches us how our response to our vocation directly impacts on others. He teaches us that mission matters. Despite the temptation to leave the Irish, he “stayed with them for I hoped that some of them would come to faith in Jesus Christ” (Confessio 18). He is very conscious of his own example having a direct and proportionate impact on his ability to lead others to Christ. He witnesses to “the faith in truth” with “sincerity of heart,” lest “the name of God be blasphemed through me” (Confessio 48). Because of the purity of his witness, Patrick sees many believers “born through me” (Confessio 38). He is “an ambassador for Christ,” (Epistola 5) just as the Church is “the letter of Christ” (Confessio 11). Just as the Father had sent Christ into the world, so Christ had sent him to Ireland to bear his saving love in person to the people of Ireland.
These are just some of the ways that Patrick’s story inspires us still and gives us the courage to persevere in our vocations and to be missionaries for Christ like him.
I hope you enjoy I Am Patrick as much as I did being involved in its making. I conclude with a chapter from St. Patrick’s Confessio that glorifies God for the ways in which he chose Patrick to be his instrument to bring the Christian faith to our ancestors. May St. Patrick intercede for all the Christians of Ireland and for all Christians around the world. May we accept and cooperate with God’s divine power to become courageous missionaries in our day like he was in his.
And so I thank my God without ceasing who preserved me as his faithful one on the day of my trial so that today I can offer a sacrifice to him with confidence. [Today] I offer my soul as a living victim to Christ my Lord who preserved me in all my troubles so that I can say: “Who am I Lord and what is my vocation that you have co-operated with me with such divine [power]?” Thus today I constantly praise and glorify your name wherever I may be among the nations both in my successes and my difficulties. So whatever happens to me—good or ill—I ought to accept with an even temper and always give thanks to God who has shown me that I can trust him without limit or doubt. (Confessio 34)