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FFC Blog Post - “Be Thou My Vision”

We will sing the classic hymn, Be Thou My Vision, this SundayThe detailed origins of this 8th-century hymn remain a mystery to us. What we know for sure is that an unknown Irish poet wrote a prayer asking God to - you guessed it - be his vision and highest thought. What is highly likely is that Saint Patrick planted the seeds of this poet's faith three centuries before as a 5th-century missionary to the Druids. 

Most of what comes to mind regarding Patrick is mythology. For one, he was from modern-day Scotland, not Ireland. Further, he didn't drive the snakes from Ireland. Researchers suggest that Ireland hasn't had snakes since the Ice Age, if not before. Likewise, there's no evidence Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity.

Moreover, Patrick wasn't even the first missionary to reach Ireland; Palladius preceded him to lackluster results despite apparently faithful ministry. Finally, St. Patrick isn't even a formally canonized saint! He's just plain ole' Patrick. 

Thankfully, the real-life story of Patrick is even more impressive than the mythology surrounding him. Kidnapped around 16, Patrick's kidnappers took him to Ireland and enslaved him. Serving as a shepherd slave for many years, Patrick returned to the Christian faith of his family (his grandfather was a priest, his father a deacon). Consequently, during long periods of isolation in the fields, tending sheep, Patrick developed a robust and mystical life of prayer. In his work, The Confession, he later recounted praying hundreds of prayers day and night, seeking God's protection and provision. 

One night, deep in prayer, Patrick claimed to hear a voice speak to him, one saying that he would soon return to his home. Shortly after, he heard another voice saying that his ship was ready. Patrick escaped and traveled to the coast, finding a boat ready to depart. Frustratingly, the ship's crew denied him entry. Praying earnestly, God softened the crew's hearts, and they allowed him aboard. 

Returning to his homeland, Patrick studied for the ministry and became a pastor. While ministering to his flock, he claimed a dramatic vision from the Lord in a dream, calling him back to Ireland as a missionary. He obeyed and led a shockingly successful missionary effort in one of the world's darkest spiritual corners.

Why was Patrick successful where his predecessor, Palladius, was not? It's a great question with an ultimately spiritual answer: the Spirit of God changes hearts wherever, whenever, and among whomever He wants. However, most note a significant difference between Patrick and Palladius regarding human agency. The former spent many, albeit horrible, years in Ireland. He knew the people well - their culture, customs, and structures - and leveraged his experiences in Ireland toward fruitful ministry. 

Given his first-hand knowledge, Patrick knew that the best prospect for evangelization and social change would come through tribal chieftains. Through their conversions would come wider avenues for the work of the gospel. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

If we learn anything from Patrick's experience and example, it is first the power of reinvigorating long-neglected faith through ceaseless prayer. When we return to the Lord, He promises to hear us, just as He did for Patrick. Beyond that, it's reassuring to trust that while our suffering might be painful, it is never pointless. Patrick lived many years in a seemingly hopeless situation, but God used it to uniquely prepare him for a glorious and more enduring work. Could God be readying especially dark corners of our world to know the Light of Life today? Let our Lord and His glorious gospel be our vision as they were for Patrick.