St. Patrick: Chasing Snakes and Saving Souls ☘️ | Fr. Patrick Briscoe & Fr. Jacob-Bertrand Janczyk

March 14, 2024

Fr. Patrick: This is Fr. Patrick Briscoe

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: And this is Fr. Jacob-Bertrand Janczyk. 

Fr. Patrick: Welcome to Godsplaining. Thanks to all who support us. If you enjoy our podcast, please consider making a monthly donation to us on Patreon. Be sure to like and subscribe to Godsplaining wherever you listen to our podcasts. Fr. Jacob-Bertrand and I have a great episode prepared for you about one of the world’s greatest saints. I’m so excited about it. I can’t believe I convinced Fr. Jacob-Bertrand to join me for this episode. But first, we have one special announcement to our listeners. So if you’ve been listening to this show, you’ve heard us talk about the St. Paul Center a little bit. The St. Paul Center was founded in Steubenville, Ohio. It’s a great apostolate that Scott Hahn began to give every Catholic the tools they need to continue to know and love the Scriptures more profoundly. And we all know that knowing and loving the Scriptures is deeply connected to our knowledge and love of Christ. They have founded a new digital learning platform called Emmaus Academy. It’s a great opportunity. There are over 20 video courses there on Emmaus Academy. There are book studies, original series from world-class theologians like Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. John Bergsma. You can join Emmaus Academy for only $25 a month. But if you visit today, you can begin exploring Emmaus Academy for free for two weeks. So again, there’s a lot of just fabulous content on there to help you know Scripture and to interpret it, to learn the basics of Christian prayer, and to study church history, the sacraments and more. Don’t miss this opportunity, especially as we’re proceeding here through the Lenten season to begin your journey with Emmaus Academy by visiting 

Now, Fr. Jacob-Bertrand deeply loves St. Patrick, as I think everyone could probably guess, and he is the reason why we’re doing this episode. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, something like that. I have nothing against the memory of St. Patrick. I’m not Irish. My last name betrays nothing Irish. I’m Polish, German, and French Canadian, so not a drop of Irish in me. So I don’t have the same… Well, I’ll say it this way. Fr. Patrick’s level of devotion, as compared to my level of devotion to St. Patrick, are a bit different. But when I found out that St. Patrick might have been a real historical figure, I was moved. 

Fr. Patrick: Surprise. But it’s true, though, not just about St. Patrick. I mean, some of the saints feel as real to us as leprechauns or other fairy stories. They just sound like ancient myths. And I think there are many Americans, actually, that would be surprised to learn that St. Patrick was an historical figure and that there’s actually a lot of documentation about him. I remember… So I went to my undergrad, as some listeners may know. I started college at Hanover College in Southern Indiana, the well-known alma mater of former Vice President Mike Pence. So for those of you who are looking for some Indiana trivia, there you go. So Hanover is located down there in Southern Indiana along the banks of the Ohio River. It’s an absolutely gorgeous campus, which is basically the whole reason I went there. Anyway, it’s not a Catholic place, not very many Catholics there at all. And as we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, I was surprised that there were all of these undergraduates, there were people who graduated from high school that thought St. Patrick was just a legend. And I remember vividly telling people around the lunch table, “Nah guys, St. Patrick is real. This is an actual person that we’re celebrating today, and it means something to Catholics.” 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: That’s true. Yeah, actually, I’m joking, of course, about my thoughts on the validity of St. Patrick’s existence. I just like to give Father Patrick a hard time. 

Fr. Patrick: Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s a great joke. Just a joke. Definitely only a joke. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Earlier this winter, there was an article in the local newspaper up here in New Hampshire, and it was about St. Brigid. And for those who don’t know, Northern New England is very unchurched, but also very non-practicing too. But this person wrote this op-ed, I don’t know if it was like the coming solstice. I don’t know. It was some pagan garbage, but part of it was about St. Brigid and how St. Brigid was, you know, she was really a pagan goddess who Christians took and abused and changed her name and blah, blah, blah. So St. Patrick’s not the only one that, but it was insane. So you can do your homework if you want to find the article. But nonetheless, I support the true claims about St. Patrick’s existence and his great holiness, et cetera, et cetera. I’m on your side, Father Patrick. 

Fr. Patrick: Oh, thank you. Well, thank you. Everyone heard that. You know, we’ve got it on the record. Father Jacob-Bertrand is on my side for a change. That’s very nice. Actually, I’m feeling very affirmed. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah. Good, good, good. That’s what I’m here for. 

Fr. Patrick: But you bring up a really serious point there, Father, actually, that there is a trend, not just of Celtic saints, but of trying to de-Christianize the saints, actually. So some of the stuff that’s being said about St. Bridget is absolutely insane. There are ideologues that are trying to claim her as a patron saint of abortion, for example, because there’s a story about her assisting in a birth. We had a great piece on that over at Our Sunday Visitor this year. So there’s a real trend. So the interest in this episode is to talk a little bit about who St. Patrick historically was. When I was a parish priest at St. Pius, I went over to the grade school on St. Patrick’s Day, and I was either the first grade or the kindergarten. I’m pretty sure it’s the first grade because I think we’re in that first floor classroom there. But I went over to tell the grade school kids the story of St. Patrick. And I was really excited to do this, to talk about my patron saint. And one of the things that you have to be careful of when you’re talking to young kids is that they take things very literally, and sometimes they’ll get an idea in their heads that isn’t exactly correct. So early on in the conversation, for whatever reason, they decided and thought that I was St. Patrick. So as I’m telling the kids the story of St. Patrick, you know, which involves him being kidnapped and enslaved and all the rest, they thought I was talking about it, my own life. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Were they sympathetic or were they just like, “Guess that happens to adults.” 

Fr. Patrick: Well, that was the craziest thing. They’re like, you know, quicksand and, you know, potentially being enslaved off the shores of Great Britain is, you know, that’s like stuff that happens there. Yeah. So that was pretty exciting. Well, Father Jacob-Bertrand, as a big devotee of St. Patrick, what is it that you think that’s important to share about his biography? What should our listeners know? 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: First, his birth. He was born. 

Fr. Patrick: He was born. Yeah, that’s right. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: He was born because he’s a real person, you know, he’s real. So no, I think that’s it. I’m again joking, but I think what people most know about St. Patrick as far as timeline and then I guess things are known because they’re important, right? Like it’s, yeah, or they’re popularized and that sort of thing is, you know, St. Patrick lived in, I guess, the fourth, fifth and the fifth century, the turn of the fourth century into the fifth century. And I think beyond the sort of like St. Patrick and the three leaf clover and the Trinitarian, you know, teaching of the Trinitarian dogma or like casting out the snakes from the from the island of Ireland or, you know, you know, besides those kind of stories that are like, I mean, rooted in truth, but also kind of cutesy, you know, they can kind of quickly become that. A lot of people know about his, as Father Patrick mentioned, his capture in what being sold or traded in slavery as a teenager. I guess it’s just generally understood it was around the year or around the age of 16 that he was captured from his home in Wales and carried off to Ireland to live as a slave. And this wasn’t an uncommon thing. You know, there was a lot of slave trade at the time between warring nations and, you know, whatever. We don’t need to rehearse the history of that. But he, you know, he escaped. And this is kind of the thing that I think is pretty… it’s not something that only St. Patrick has done, you know, that that you escape from some kind of captivity or bondage and then return to the people who had held you captive to evangelize to bring them to Christ, right? So I can think of other, you know, others who have done that and where it’s a sort of suffering, but coming back to those, you know, I think of like the North American martyrs. Right. The Jesuits who were captured, tortured, came back to France, Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf you know, then came back to the Americas and were martyred in the Americas and their evangelical efforts. So I think that stands out. I mean, I think being captured and being forced into slavery is a formative, would be a formative thing. It was a formative thing for you, Father Patrick, and I think it was a formative thing for St. Patrick. Right. So, yeah. And as people probably know, he became a priest and a bishop and worked to evangelize. So I, we’re going to talk about a couple, you know, his confessions and the breastplate of St. Patrick, that prayer. So I think those stand out to those would be on my list to to to mention. But we’re going to get to that. So I won’t steal the thunder of the coming minutes of the episode. What’s for you? 

Fr. Patrick: Yeah, let’s yeah, let’s go ahead and dive into it, because you really hit some of the great themes. So first you kind of hinted at St. Patrick has a confession that is extremely beautiful. So a lot of people know St. Augustine’s confessions. Maybe some of you followed a couple of friars who did a very helpful and I think thought provoking and spiritual reading of St. Augustine’s confessions with Ascension. But, but St. Patrick also has a confession. And apart from Augustine’s confessions, I think this is one of the most beautiful confessions as a genre in Christian literature. So, confession is just a kind of telling forth. Right. A bearing of soul and an apology, a defense. So, at the beginning of St. Patrick’s confession, the reason he’s writing this document, which has been handed down to us, there’s a ton of manuscript evidence for it. It’s clear that someone has accused St. Patrick of a hidden sin. And so he’s writing this confession again as an apology to defend himself. But he narrates his whole experience. And he’s saying these things which you allege against me, whatever it is, and we don’t really know exactly what is being said about him. But these things which you allege about me aren’t true. And so what one of the very beautiful parts is when he talks about his conversion. That’s one of the beautiful evidences he gives in the apology for for the reason why his detractors are saying false things about him. Right. So so this is if you look at the confession, this is numbered paragraph 16, and he’s kind of detailing what it was like to be there, a slave. The work he did was tending sheep, which I think is incredibly beautiful because of all the passages about Christ as the Good Shepherd. So we see St. Patrick as a kind of other Christ and other Christ tending the sheep the way the way that Christ did, or the way that Christ teaches us to think about him. So this so this paragraph 16, he writes, “After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew and my spirit was moved so that in one day I would pray up to 100 times. And at night, perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worst for it and I never felt lazy as I realize now the spirit was burning in me at that time.” So there’s a couple of things that stand out to me in that, but Father Jacob Bertrand, any anything you want to say about that passage? 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, I mean, we’re in Lent and I think that it’s worth thinking about the suffering of the saints and, you know, something actually at a group here at the parish, we were talking about our scripture class, we were talking, we’re reading through Romans this year and we were talking about suffering and Paul’s understanding of suffering, especially in Romans 9 and 10, as we talk about those those chapters and that, you know, Saint Paul defends suffering. If you remember in Romans, he talks about all the things that might come up against us in our lives, you know, the earthly things of that might cause trial and suffering, but also, you know, he says nothing, no principalities, nothing will separate us from the love of God, that our faith and living with Christ, even for those we can, yeah, even for those who are on the process of converting or in the process, that the circumstances, the Lord uses the circumstances of our life to our benefit, whether that’s, you know, like the joyous whatever times, the happy times, or whether that’s the difficult times of suffering, and it’s not that the Lord causes suffering, but that he uses those circumstances, only as God can, to bring about our good, to bring about our benefit, and ultimately to draw us to Him. And you see this in Saint Patrick’s life, right, because the reason he comes back even to Ireland to preach the truth of the Gospel to Ireland is because he sees that in being brought to Ireland the first time that the Lord had sort of given him these people, you know, that the Lord has shown him the need in these people to know and to love God. So he sees that even in his own suffering, his empathy and his sympathy for the plight of others, you know, his is a physical suffering in the slavery that he endured, but he sees an even greater suffering in the spiritual lack, the spiritual slavery of the Irish people, the Gaelic people. So that stands out. You can see as you read the Confessions, and as you mentioned Father Patrick, in comparison to Saint Augustine’s, this one’s much shorter, you know, so if you want a little quick read, you can get through Saint Patrick’s much more quickly than Saint Augustine’s, but you can see in these moments, and if we’re sensitive to it, how it is that God works, even in these early years of Saint Patrick, that influenced the rest of his life, you know, and it’s really the mark of a saint. It’s not just Saint Patrick’s, it’s particular in the circumstances, but it’s the mark of the saint. 

Fr. Patrick: I think what we see in this passage, some of the beauty of Celtic spirituality, so he’s very tied to natural rhythms, right, and the references to the weather. Saint Patrick was raised a Christian. His grandfather was a priest in many of the traditions. So this conversion is a kind of reconnecting with God, with his faith, with his identity, when he’s been torn from his homeland. So we can think of, in Patrick, we can think of all the people that are refugees that have had to flee their homes for one reason or another, that have been taken from their homes, that have experienced that kind of loss. So I find those themes very beautiful. And then, again, that last line of that passage, that the spirit is a fire in him. You know, as he’s writing about it, you just get a sense like, this is a man overcome by this love of God. For Heaven’s sake, he was praying up to 100 times a day. Now, Irish people are known to exaggerate, so maybe Saint Patrick appropriated a little bit of that. But it’s true that he’s able to give his life over to God through his work as a shepherd and to know a kind of union of God. Okay, so the other thing I want to bring up and share with our listeners is the story that you were mentioning, Father Jacob-Bertrand, that Saint Patrick actually, after escaping, goes back to Ireland to preach to the Irish people. Because that’s a very visceral story. So he continues to pray very deeply, and he has a dream. He has a dream. And in the dream, he hears the voices of the people of Ireland calling out to him. And this is an incredibly Christian thing. This is an incredibly Christian thing, right, where we hear God using dreams to direct the saints. We think of Saint Joseph in the scriptures. We could think of God coming to the prophets in dreams. So we know that this is something that the Lord uses, and it kind of has a place in our tradition. But he hears the people of Ireland crying out to him and feels a need to kind of drive to return to them, which is really an incredible thing. So he records this sense that he hears, you know, as the voice of God. This is paragraph 24 in his confession. “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.” And so he knows at this point that he’s got a kind of confirmation from the Lord that he has to undertake this work where these voices, again, the Irish people are calling out to him. And I think this is so moving because it’s a great example of someone who is about the will of God in his life. You know, this is a man who hears the call of the Lord and responds to it. So because Father Jacob-Bertrand brought those two things up, I thought it was great to bring them out of his confession and connect them to the text a little bit. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, and later on, too, he mentions this very sort of thing of giving up, of like returning, right, of sacrificing parents and homeland. And this is an echo of the Gospel, you know, “unless you love me more than father and mother,” you know, as our Lord commands to prioritize Him over all things, even the best of things in our lives, even the best of things in the created world. It’s clear as you read about Saint Patrick that his love for God is primary. It’s of sole importance. And that’s not to say that, you know, his homeland, his parents aren’t important, that he doesn’t love them, that this, you know, this sort of thing. But that when a soul catches on fire, you know, as Father Patrick was saying about Saint Patrick, not to confuse the two, of course, you know, that everything else seems to be, everything else is relativized to that. So when there’s a call to go preach the Gospel, then there’s a call to go preach the Gospel. And also, it shows like a great faith in what God promises, that God will provide for what is needed for our comfort for those whom we love, you know, if we trust in him, and not in a prosperity Gospel kind of way, like if you just trust, everything will be great. But the reality is that God desires our good, our fulfillment, and works for that. And we see that in Saint Patrick in his life, especially in his ministry or apostolic work, I like better, in Ireland and returning to the people of Ireland. So that kind of crosses over to one of the two themes that I wanted to be sure to point out. So there are two themes that I really love. The first, and this is the one that I think is related, is that Saint Patrick has a real gratitude for God’s work in his life, which is extraordinary, right? I mean, again, this guy who was sold into slavery, you know, and then has been a missionary in a foreign land and has given it all as Fr. Jacob-Bertrand pointed out for the Gospel. So throughout the confession, he just says again and again, “I’m so thankful to God.” So this is in number 38, “I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace that through me many people should be born again in God and brought to full life.” So there are many passages like this where Saint Patrick is just talking about how grateful he is to God for the work the Lord has done in his life and through him. And the other great theme, and this one is kind of a surprise, is mercy. So again, whatever sins there are in Saint Patrick’s youth, and he’s not as explicit as Saint Augustine is about the sins of his youth. Part of that is, as Fr. Jacob-Bertrand pointed out, the brevity of the work. But he had in this conversion an experience of God’s mercy that was so compelling that he continues to be driven by this love of God, which he himself is known. So he talks about mercy many times in the confession. He says things like this, “I am so grateful for the mercy which I have known from God.” He talks again and again, “The Lord was merciful to me a thousand, thousand times because he saw in me that I was ready but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life.” So it’s really this overwhelming sense of those twin themes of gratitude and mercy that make the confession, I think, just a really wonderful text. Any other comments on the confession? 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: I was thinking too of this gratitude, of this thankfulness. Often I think something that I hear a lot or that is heard a lot in the confessional, or at least in conversations. My own experience too is this growing envy of what others have. We’re not growing, but a kind of envy of looking at the world, whether or not this person is more successful or more holy or whatever it might be. We all have our things that we wish were ours. I think that’s remedied by and in gratitude and taking stock of what it is that the Lord has given and how it is that the Lord is working in our lives. St. Patrick is a great example of this, but to recognize that the love that was showered, the mercy that was showered on St. Patrick is the same love and mercy. It’s the same God who’s working in our lives. I don’t want to just say it’s an attitude that we have to adopt, but it’s an actual real understanding of what it is and how it is that God’s working in our lives. St. Patrick’s an example of this. We often, Lent’s a good time to work on our conscience and make an examination of conscience and repent. It’s also a good time to make an examination of gratitude, of an examination of gifts. I encourage people to do this, even in their evening prayer. When you wear a night prayer before you go to bed, you take a look at your life like, “What did I fail at today? Also, how has God blessed me today? What has God given me?” I think St. Patrick is a great example of this, the suffering and the trials that he faced. In it, we see God’s hand at work. He saw it in his own life, and we can grow by grace in that sensitivity. Like all the saints, they offer us an example or a path forward. This is one that I think that St. Patrick offers in a unique way, a particular way. 

Fr. Patrick: As we wrap up the episode here, I want to pause and take a few moments to conclude with a prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate or his Lorica. When I was young, this prayer was in the back of the red worship hymnal. That’s what we had at my childhood parish. I would get back to the pew after receiving communion at those school masses, and I would flip open the hymnal to the back pages where St. Patrick’s Breastplate was, and I would just read this prayer. This is my childhood post-communion prayer. I did it because St. Patrick has always been my patron, and so I just prayed the prayer that had my name on it. That’s where that started. This is not complicated, but St. Patrick has proved a great patron, a great intercessor for me. St. Patrick’s Breastplate has a couple just very beautiful themes. Listeners probably know it. It’s the one that begins, “I rise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity through belief in the threeness, through confession of the oneness of the Creator of Creation,” and this prayer hits all the big moments in Celtic spirituality, so it begins with a Trinitarian confession. Again, St. Patrick is associated with the Trinity, and this prayer is attributed to him, so that’s a fitting thing. It’s extremely Christological, so it has that whole section where he’s talking about being just awash in Christ. He prays, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I rise,” and so the whole of Christian life, especially in Lent in a heightened way, is about this conformity to Christ, and we certainly see that in many places in the life of St. Patrick where he’s become an altar Christus, another Christ as someone who is such an image of Jesus. We’ve got that Celtic creation spirituality, and he’s talking about the light of the sun, the radiance of the moon, the splendor of fire, the lightning, the wind, the sea, the earth, so we see the kind of awesome power of God being worked through the natural elements. So again, these beautiful themes, all of which are in his confession, Trinitarian, Christological, and creation themes are kind of borne out in a distilled way in this prayer in the Breastplate of St. Patrick, so I wanted to conclude with this prayer and point it out and encourage people who are maybe interested on St. Patrick’s Day of growing a little bit closer to the saint to read the confession, but also to pause and to pray this prayer and allow it to inform them. Father Jacob-Bertrand, do you have any last words as we wrap up here? 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, I didn’t pray the prayer of St. Patrick or the breastplate of St. Patrick. When I returned to the pew, I usually got back and did something obnoxious to my brother or sister or something like that. 

Fr. Patrick: They flicked their ears or something. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, exactly. 

Fr. Patrick: Poor Andrea. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: She’s doing great though. She survived. She’s better for it. Yeah, my sister is the youngest of three and has two older brothers who toughened her up.

Fr. Patrick: Loved her very much. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: Yeah, exactly. This has nothing to do with the episode today, but I’m going to say it anyways because Father Patrick brought her up, but when she was little, there was a period of her life where she would walk around with her little toddler, well, probably a little older purse. My mom would have to check to make sure that there weren’t rocks in there because she would put rocks in it to hit me and my brother in self-defense, but she would carry around a bag of rocks in self-defense, so good on her. But back to the breastplate of St. Patrick, I know she’s the best of us. I was always familiar with that sort of, it’s not the exact ad, but towards the end Christ with me, Christ before me, but it was later on in life that I became aware that the prayer is much longer and it’s sort of all-encompassing thing. As you were saying, Father Patrick, it’s doctrinal and it’s Trinitarian and Christological words and lines. It’s also all-encompassing in its prayer, which is for protection, for wisdom and being able to act as God does. It’s not a list of virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it functions in that way of calling upon God that Christ might be alive. Like St. Paul says, that it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. God’s strength has piloted me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me. So it’s all this being conformed to Christ. You can think too of John the Baptist, that I must decrease and he must increase. Again, I’ve said it a few times on the episode, but you see this alive in St. Patrick and is an example to us, not just of the witness of his life and following the example of his life, but even in his confession of his life and the prayer that he leaves us. The beauty and power of it is what, some 1600-1700 years later is still there. It’s so present. It’s still ready for us to call upon him and to follow him to Christ. I can see why one would have a devotion to St. Patrick. 

Fr. Patrick: It reads like a psalm to me. That’s what I love so much about the breastplate. It’s so inspired, I think, by that same kind of spirituality that would have been for David in the psalmist, but we get the same kind of echo here. 

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand: It’s someone who recognizes what God has done in his life, and that but for God’s hand in his life, there would be nothing. David writes the psalms in lament in many ways, in praise of God for God’s mercy. So too, the prayer, the breastplate of St. Patrick, it comes from a reflection in a relationship on what God has done. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. 

Fr. Patrick: Well, hopefully this episode has helped our listeners to uncover a better love and knowledge of this great saint. Again, check out his confession. There are great translations of this work available online. It’s not too long a read. Pray the breastplate of St. Patrick. There are many exorcists who rely on this prayer. It’s a serious prayer, an ancient prayer. It’s a very powerful prayer. And invoke the Saints’ Intercession. Like I said, just on a personal note, he’s been a great patron to me, and I commend him to all of you. Thanks to everyone for tuning in for this episode, especially to those who support Godsplaining. If you’d like to make a donation to us, please do so through our Patreon account. Follow Godsplaining on all of the major social media platforms. Be sure to like and give us a five-star review on wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can check the links in the show notes to shop Godsplaining merch and check out our upcoming events. We’ve got a couple cool things coming down the pike, so make sure that if we’re in a city near you, you’re aware. We’ve been kind of moving around lately. Otherwise, friends, please know that we’re praying for you, and we ask that you would pray for us. God bless.