Maewyn Succat. Bet you never thought to hang that name on your son. But Maewyn wasn’t from around these parts, and his name apparently suited him as he grew up in his native Wales.
Maewyn had a pretty respectable upbringing. His granddaddy was a preacher, and his dad was a deacon – though rumor had it that Dad’s religious affiliations had more to do with tax deductions than spiritual passion.
In most ways, I suppose, Maewyn was your typical teenager. Times were tough, but youth is a time to dream of something better. No doubt this teenager had dreams, hopes, and plans to get there.
But all of that came crashing down when Maewyn’s family estate was attacked and he was abducted, placed in chains, and hauled off into slavery, far away from his home and his family.
What do you do when all you’ve ever known is ripped away from you? How do you respond when your dreams, your hopes, your family, and your heritage become distant memories or painful reminders of a life that once was?
Some children encounter such things at very early ages, and never remember their heritage or parents. Not Maewyn. He’d seen too much. Known too much. Missed too much.
Maewyn’s new master owned a great deal of land and livestock, and the teenager was given the responsibility of herding and caring for the master’s sheep. The life of a shepherd – isolated, outdoors, lonely, and frightening – drew Maewyn to the heritage of his grandfather. Suddenly those stories and truths from the Bible were more than just relics from the past. In his captivity and desperation, Maewyn turned to the only Source of comfort he had available. Maewyn met Jesus Christ.
Over time, what started as a tragic invasion became a treasured transformation. Those hours and days of solitude became Maewyn’s best friend. Rather than bemoan his situation or become bitter, he pursued daily an intimate relationship with his God. All those shepherd passages in Scripture took on special meaning to the captive herder. He discovered a unique understanding of the Lord known only to the fraternity of those who have ever cared for sheep.
As the months and years passed, the shepherd began to recognize the disconnect between the people he encountered and the God he knew. He began to dream of somehow sharing with them the good news that had captured him more powerfully than any kidnappers ever could. Like David in the Bible, Maewyn was becoming a shepherd of people without even realizing it.
Then, unexpectedly, the Lord threw Maewyn a surprising curve. Like everyone who has walked with Christ intimately, when Maewyn talked to God, God talked back. Six years after being enslaved, the Lord spoke to the now-twentysomething and told him that he would soon go home. Soon after, another message: Your ship is ready.
Ship! The nearest port was 200 miles away. But responding to no less than the call of God, Maewyn fled his master and journeyed to the port, where, after various adventures, he found a ship and returned home to his family.
What do you do when you’ve suddenly gone at the hand of God from bondage to freedom? How do you respond when you’re allowed to dream again after all your former dreams have been vanquished? Do you dare to believe, to imagine? Do you conveniently forget the Faithful Companion who never left you during your days of pain? One thing was for sure – this wasn’t the same young man who had treated the things of God casually, if at all. Maewyn continued to pursue the knowledge of the Christ who had freed him, not once but twice.
A couple of years after returning home, Maewyn had a vision from God. In it, he saw a man or an angel who was carrying many letters. The man/angel gave him one to read, and as he opened it, he heard the unmistakable voices of the land of his captivity. They were crying out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’
What would you do? These people had plundered your family, robbed you of your youth and freedom, and separated you from the land of your heritage. And now here was God, asking the unthinkable.
I guess Maewyn decided that the unthinkable was what his life was to be. He began to study in earnest and received formal training for the ministry. And with a heart of love and forgiveness, Maewyn returned to his imposed home – this time as a shepherd of the hearts of men.
For the rest of his life, this slave-set-free devoted himself to sharing the love of God with an entire nation. He baptized thousands of people himself. He ordained people to ministry and established dozens of churches. He dramatically impacted the sons of kings and wealthy women throughout the land. But out of firm conviction, he refused to accept their gifts. At times he was beaten, robbed of all he had, and arrested. But the shepherd-of-the-heart had learned that no one could rob him again of that which he held most dear; it rested firmly in his white-hot heart for God.
Throughout his life, Maewyn never thought of himself as more than an unlearned exile, who once was a slave and fugitive, but who learned to trust completely in God. Nevertheless, despite his obvious humility, this man who could face abduction and evil and return it with kindness and love ultimately captured the heart of a people, and a nation.
Maewyn’s influence still lives today – more than 1,500 years after his death. But he is remembered, not by the name his father bestowed on him, but by the name given to him by the captors he ultimately learned to love. They called him, “Naomh Padraig.” The Latins called him “Patricius.”
To us, his name will forever be Patrick – the patron saint of Ireland.
I just wanted you to know the first of the story as today we celebrate the shepherd of Irish hearts everywhere. It’s about a heck of a lot more than shamrocks and green beer.
Elsewhere on LifeVesting