Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

A Slave To His Destiny

One morning a sixteen-year-old boy was kidnapped from his house by a
band of knife-wielding thugs and taken to another country, there to be
sold as a slave. The year was 401 A.D.

He was made a shepherd. Slaves were not allowed to wear clothes, so he
was often dangerously cold and frequently on the verge of starvation.
He spent months at a time without seeing another human being, a severe
psychological torture.

But this greatest of difficulties was transformed into the greatest of
blessings because it gave him an opportunity not many get in a
lifetime. Long lengths of solitude have been used by people all
through history to meditate, to learn to control the mind, and to
explore the depths of feeling and thought to a degree impossible in
the hubbub of normal life.

He wasn’t looking for such an ‘opportunity’, but he got it anyway. He
had never been a religious person, but to hold himself together and
take his mind off the pain, he began to pray, so much that "…in one
day", he wrote later, "I would say as many as a hundred prayers and
after dark nearly as many again…I would wake and pray before
daybreak, through snow, frost, and rain…"

This young man, at the onset of his manhood, got a ‘raw deal’. But
therein lies the lesson. Nobody gets a perfect life. The question is
not "What could I have done if I’d gotten a better life?" but rather
"What can I do with the life I’ve got?"

How can you take your personality, your circumstances, your
upbringing, the time and place you live in, and make something
extraordinary out of it? What can you do with what you’ve got?

The young slave prayed. He didn’t have much else available to do, so
he did what he could with all his might. And after six years of
praying, he heard a voice in his sleep say that his prayers would be
answered: He was going home. He sat bolt upright and the voice said,
"Look, your ship is ready".

He was a long way from the ocean, but he started walking. After two
hundred miles, he came to the ocean and there was a ship, preparing to
leave for Britain, his homeland. Somehow he got aboard the ship and
went home to reunite with his family.

But he had changed. The sixteen-year-old boy had become a holy man. He
had visions. He heard the voices of the people from the island he had
left, Ireland, calling him back. The voices were persistent, and he
eventually left his family to become ordained as a priest and a bishop
with the intention of returning to Ireland and converting the Irish to

At the time, the Irish were fierce, illiterate, Iron-Age people. For
over eleven hundred years, the Roman Empire had been spreading its
civilizing influence from Africa to Britain, but Rome never conquered

The people of Ireland waged war constantly. They made human sacrifices
of prisoners of war and sacrificed newborns to the gods of the
harvest. They hung the skulls of their enemies on their belts as

Our slave-boy-turned-bishop decided to make these people literate and
peaceful. Braving dangers and obstacles of tremendous magnitude, he
actually succeeded! By the end of his life, Ireland was Christian.
Slavery had ceased entirely. Wars were much less frequent, and
literacy was spreading.

How did he do it? He began by teaching people to read, starting with
the Bible. Students eventually became teachers, and went to other
parts of the island to create new places of learning, and wherever
they went, they brought the know-how to turn sheepskin into paper and
paper into books.

Copying books became the major religious activity of that country. The
Irish had a long-standing love of words, and it expressed itself to
the full when they became literate. Monks spent their lives copying
books: the Bible, the lives of saints, and the works accumulated by
the Roman culture, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew books, grammars, the works
of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, Greek philosophy, math, geometry,

In fact, because so many books were being copied, they were saved,
because as Ireland was being civilized, the Roman Empire was
crumbling. Libraries disappeared in Europe. Books were no longer
copied (except in the city of Rome itself), and children were no
longer taught to read. The civilization that had been built up over
eleven centuries disintegrated. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Because our slave-boy-turned-bishop transformed his suffering into a
mission, civilization itself, in the form of literature and the
accumulated knowledge contained in that literature, was saved and not
lost during that time of darkness. He was named a saint, he is the
famous Saint Patrick. You can read the full and fascinating story if
you like in the excellent book "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by
Thomas Cahill.

"Very interesting", you might say, "but what does that have to do with

Well… you are also in some circumstances or other, and it’s not all
peaches and cream, is it? There’s some stuff you don’t like, maybe
something about your circumstances, perhaps, or maybe some events that
occurred in your childhood.

But here you are, with that past, with these circumstances, with the
things you consider less than ideal. What are you going to do with
them? If those circumstances have made you uniquely qualified for some
contribution, what would it be?

You may not know the answer to that question right now, but keep in
mind that the circumstances you think only spell misery may contain
the seeds of something profoundly Good. Assume that’s true, and the
assumption will begin to gather evidence until your misery is
transformed, as Patrick’s suffering was, from a raw deal to the
perfect preparation for something better.

Ask yourself and keep asking, "Given my upbringing and circumstances,
what Good am I especially qualified to do?"