MPAA Rating: Not rated at time of this review
USCCB Rating: Not rated at time of this review
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5 reels
Fresh off the success of Love and Mercy comes another docudrama about a great (and certainly more famous) Catholic saint: I Am Patrick. While not quite as good as Love and Mercy, it is certainly welcomed, as far too many people—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—consider March 17th an excuse to binge drink rather than to evangelize. Many people, it seems, know just three things about Patrick: he used a shamrock to explain the Trinity, he only wore green, and he hated snakes. This is, at best, an unfortunate simplification of a truly great soul.
Patrick was born in Britannia (perhaps in either present-day Scotland or Wales) into a wealthy British family and grew up in luxury with a promising career ahead of him. Unfortunately, his idyllic life was abruptly ended when he was captured and sold into slavery. He spent six years in pagan Ireland, passed from master to master, experiencing cruel treatment, malnutrition, and loneliness. In those grim circumstances, Patrick grew closer to God and was soon spending hours in prayer while performing manual labor. He eventually escaped, returned home, and began studying for the priesthood.
While still a seminarian, he experienced a vision one night of the Irish people begging him to return to their land and bring them the gospel. After his ordination as a bishop, he returned to Ireland. He had great success and soon the emerald isle was filled with Catholic churches and communities. His troubles were not over, however, as vicious rumors spread about him back home threatened to shut down his ministry.
I Am Patrick is produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), a non-denominational media group made primarily of evangelical Protestant Christians. [Editor: See CWR’s recent interview with executive producer Gordon Robertson.] Thus, the film has a distinct ecumenical flavor. CBN makes no attempt to hide Patrick’s Catholicity, but some Catholics will be irked by Protestant overtones such as Patrick’s use of Irish language over Latin or misspeaking the words of consecration. But, overall, the film is a positive development. There is nothing that will seriously offend Catholics, yet plenty that will help Protestants and other non-Catholics understand this great saint, including respect for hierarchical norms and love of the Eucharist. The film itself is competently made if a little amateurish. My personal favorite element was John Rhys-Davies’ masterful portrayal of the elderly Patrick, full of wisdom and poise.
There is so much from Patrick’s witness and story that is useful in the everyday life of a Christian. Foremost was his love and forgiveness of the Irish people. It would have been easy for him to hate these pagans after his early experience. Like the prophet Jonah, he could have refused God’s invitation and wished their ruin. Instead, he turned his suffering into a great evangelistic ministry. Indeed, the reason Patrick succeeded while others failed was due directly to his time as a slave. He learned the Irish language, customs, and religious practices. This made him the perfect candidate to spread the gospel. In His wisdom, God was preparing Patrick for his mission during the darkest of times. The fruit of this choice was the creation of a vibrant Catholic culture that flourished for numerous centuries while much of Catholic Europe experienced serious difficulties after the fall of the Roman Empire.
In the last few decades Catholic Ireland has begun to lose its identity. Rocked by sex abuse scandals and rising secularism, church attendance has slacked, ordinations have dropped, and laws have increasingly reflected the values of the European Union rather than those of Jesus Christ and His Church. It is in this context, I think, that I Am Patrick can do the most good. I was aware of most of Patrick’s story prior to seeing this film, but the one aspect that genuinely surprised me was his battles with the Church hierarchy in Britain. After Patrick had spent years working tirelessly in Ireland, some British bishop were upset with his unorthodox methods, such preaching in the vernacular and ordaining priests after only minimal instruction by himself.
Rather than strike back at his critics or create a schismatic church, Patrick wrote a long letter called the Confessio, which survives to this day. The document begins with the following phrase: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.” He admits his failings, pledges his obedience, and rejoices in conversions to the Faith. Patrick trusts in God and continues his work. Those today who grow weary with the infighting among bishops and within the Church can take solace that this phenomenon has existed since very founding of the Church (as evidenced in The Acts of the Apostles and many of St. Paul’s letters) and God will continue to use insufficient instruments to bring about His will.
The saints are real humans, men and women of flesh and blood with all the neurosis, compulsions, and desires that come with it. While each have certain abilities and qualities, their greatest characteristic is that they love Christ and simply say “yes” to whatever situation God presents them. I Am Patrick makes the legend real, not just a man who prays for us but a saint we can all become.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!