THROUGH four years, from 427 to 431, Patrick labored to learn what others absorbed without effort. His age impeded the acquisition of knowledge, he knew, but he saw also a more serious defect: “It was my sins that prevented me from fixing in my mind what once I would have learned merely by reading.”
His habitual tenacity sustained him during those years; he pursued his new objective with the same concentration with which he had pursued every objective. There were times when he weakened—times when the necessity of listening to lectures and absorbing them, or reading with painful slowness designated manuscripts wearied him almost past bearing. At times he faltered, discouraged by his slow progress, by an ever-present consciousness of unworthiness—“I was not worthy,” he complained against himself, “nor was I such that the Lord should grant this to His servant, that He should give me so great a grace in behalf of that nation—a thing which, in my youth, had never occurred to me.” There were also times when he was discouraged by the evident doubts of superiors that God would call to the priesthood a man already past forty, or when he was antagonized against his mission by the unconcealed amusement of the youths present with him at Auxerre.
The most serious discouragement came from within rather than from without. The joy he had experienced on the night when the Spirit had spoken within him smothered slowly as he thought, with increasing frequency, of the mission itself. With painful vividness, he remembered the past in Ireland: his first frantic efforts to escape, the recurrent periods when the spirit languished beneath the depressing knowledge of his enslavement, the brutality of Dann and Master Miliucc, the coarse and monotonous food, the cold, snow, and rain when he had tended the sheep.
He had no power to close his memory to the past. It had been too deeply impressed to remain concealed when every day carried him closer to the very places where he had endured that past—where the mere sight of grass and forest would reopen the long-closed scars—where he might even be subjected to the same life again.
He would not turn back! He would do that which he had been commanded to do however hateful the task itself. If God could become mere man, then a man could become a mere slave. He knew he could abandon the mission assigned to him; but he knew he could do it only by turning completely from God.
Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, emerged as an unfailing source of strength in days of discouragement. At their first meeting, when Patrick told of the mission assigned to him and of the earlier incidents which validated its genuineness, the Bishop had listened with such a placid expression that Patrick felt driven to ask, “Do you believe me, Bishop Germanus?”
The Bishop laughed readily, not as a man of high position laughs at one more lowly, but as a man amused by a challenge to something beyond his capabilities. “Patrick, I believe with certainty only the word of God and teachings of the Church. I hope I do not offend you,” he added quickly.
Patrick shook his head. He felt disappointed that the Bishop had not immediately endorsed his recital; at the same time, he was aware of an urge to confide in this prelate whose great height and obvious strength seemed incongruous with his position
This article is taken from the epilogue in A Man Cleansed by God: A Novel Based on the Life of St. Patrick by John E. Beahn, which is available from TAN Books.