“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” John 4:34
Poor Patrick, he would recognize little of what goes on in his name; he wouldn’t even have recognized pictures of a man dressed in a bishop’s regalia – copes and mitres came centuries later. Patrick would have recognized the words of the Gospel, and in his own writings tried to reflect what he read in Scripture.
In Saint John Chapter 4 Verse 32, Jesus responds to his disciples urgings that he should eat something, he says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples are mystified, in Verse 33 they say to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus is sustained by his Father and Patrick speaks in his Confessio of how he himself was sustained by God through times of hardship.
So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.
Patrick realizes that even before he has had faith, God has been there looking after him. Like a parent watching over the growth of a child, God has watched over him.
Sustained by God, Patrick responded to God. Patrick would have understood the words of Jesus in Verse 34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” Patrick may have decided that once delivered from slavery, he would never return to Ireland, he may have decided that he could live as God’s servant among his own people and that he had a duty to stay with his own parents. But Patrick knows that this is not God’s will for him, that God has work for Patrick to complete, so he writes:
A few years later I was again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again. It was while I was there that I saw, in a vision in the night, a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.
Another night – I do not know, God knows, whether it was within me or beside me – I heard authoritative words which I could hear but not understand, until at the end of the speech it became clear: “The one who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you”; and I awoke full of joy.
Patrick is like all of us, he is hesitant. He wants to be sure of what God is saying to him. He has the vision in which he is called to “walk again” among the Irish people, but then he writes that it was another night that he was confirmed in his mission, that he was assured that God would speak through him.
Sustained by God, Patrick responds to God, and then he brings in a harvest for God. Patrick would have been familiar with Jesus’words in Verses 35-37, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.'” Patrick writes of how hard it was to go out to bring in that spiritual harvest, he writes of the opposition he faced as he attempted to do the work that God had given him:
There were those whom I offended, even against the wishes of some of my superiors; but, with God guiding me, I did not consent nor acquiesce to them. It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.
Having been sustained, having responded, Patrick harvested the fields that were ripe for harvesting. Sixteen centuries later, Patrick’s work continues. Jesus told his followers in Verse 38, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” We have entered into Patrick’s labour; it is our task to continue the work that he began.
Look at how little Patrick had and how much he achieved; look at how much we have and how little we sometimes achieve. Our task is to do the will of God.