CELEBRATING ST. PATRICK

St. Patrick 2017
(To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I’m posting a chapter from my book manuscript GREAT SOULS, GREAT PRAYERS.)

The activities, actions, and attainments associated with St. Patrick are part history, part hagiography, and, ultimately, the stuff of love, lore, and loyalty. The patron saint of Ireland and all things Irish finally has no exactly precise chronology. But what is known is that he lived and moved among the Irish people, and, as a result of his faithfulness, he has become beloved to a degree rare among those whose names are prefixed with the term “Saint.”

Valentine’s Day is loaded with chocolate and flowers but not many mentions of St. Valentinus, and Christmas is celebrated among Christians apart from a particular day associated with St. Nicholas. But St. Patrick’s Day is definitively connected to a bishop whose life has inspired not only Catholics but an array of Protestants to affix his name to their congregations.

Patrick’s fame, at first glance, may appear to consist mostly of heritage, legend and affectionate fantasy. Countless tales are told and re-told about:
* his ridding Ireland of snakes;
* his conversion of countless persons, including kings, by using a shamrock as a parable of the Holy Trinity;
* his creation of the Irish Celtic Cross;
* the transformation of himself and some companions into deer;
* his walking stick growing into a living tree.

In these stories there are sentimental and serious sources for inspiration. In other stories, there is also much to be appreciated and used for the deepening of faith. One of the premier prayers associated with the great Irish bishop is the Lorica of St. Patrick.(2)

A Lorica (meaning “armor” or “breastplate”) is a incantational prayer for protection and has been understood to have been employed in times past by soldiers before a battle, sojourners before beginning a journey, and monks under siege. Patrick’s Lorica cannot be exactly dated prior to the 8th century, but it resonates so resoundingly with everything known about Patrick that it has become definitively associated with him.(3)

The Lorica (or “Breastplate”) of St. Patrick(4)

I BIND MYSELF TO THE STRONG VIRTUE OF LOVE:
in the obedience of angels,
in the prediction of prophets,
in the preaching of the apostles,
in the faith of confessors.
I BIND MYSELF TO THE POWER OF HEAVEN:
the light of the sun,
the radiance of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the flashing of lightning,
the swiftness of wind,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of earth,
and firmness of rocks.
I BIND MYSELF TODAY:
God’s power to guide me.
God’s might to uphold me.
God’s wisdom to teach me.
God’s eye to watch over me.
God’s ear to hear me.
God’s word to give me speech.
Christ with me and before me.
Christ behind me and within me.
Christ to the right of me.
Christ to the left of me.
Christ above me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ in the heart of everyone one who thinks of me.
Christ in the heart of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me.
Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me.
I bind myself today to the strong virtue of Christ. AMEN.

Patrick’s autobiographical “Confessio” and his “Epistle to Coroticus,” however humble they may seem by contemporary standards, are among the first examples of literary achievement in Ireland.(5) These source materials composed by Patrick tell a grand account of his supremely significant life, perhaps more impressive than the magical feats attributed to him over time. Patrick wrote his “Confessio” in his old age. In it he recounts his adventuresome and fraught-filled life journey and his efforts as a priest and bishop. In the end he intones a humble, plaintive hope: “I pray God to give me perseverance, and to vouchsafe that I bear to him faithful witness, until my passing hence, for the sake of God.”(6)

By all reliable accounts, Patrick’s humility and pious devotion to evangelizing Ireland were real and enduring. His remembrance of his own enslavement in the days of his youth made him, for the rest of his life, sensitive to the predicament of any one subjected to the denigration of bondage. His love for all people and his concern for their plight seem indisputable. His devotion to God and his trusting belief in God’s provision were constant and consistent.

And by these virtues, this second most successful early missionary of the Church (after the apostle Paul) was tremendously successful throughout Ireland – baptizing thousands, building hundreds of churches, creating seats for bishops, establishing dozens of monasteries and houses for religious orders, and founding an abiding status of belovedness in the hearts of the Irish. Most importantly, as Thomas Cahill has noted, “Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”(7)

PRAYING WITH ST. PATRICK:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Praying The Lorica – Strengthened by A Cloud of Witnesses –The first portion of Patrick’s famous Lorica (or “Breastplate”) invokes the powerful influences of the Christian tradition.
I BIND MYSELF TODAY TO THE STRONG VIRTUE OF LOVE:
in the obedience of angels,
in the prediction of prophets,
in the preaching of the apostles,
in the faith of confessors.
Pray a prayer of thanksgiving today for the salutatory gifts of the Christian tradition and history, particularly for the love, loyalty, obedience, prophecies, sermons, and abiding faith of those who have kept the Christian faith alive over two millennia.

Day 2 Praying The Lorica – Inspired by the Natural Realm – The second portion of Patrick’s Lorica emphasizes the spiritual inspiration that comes from the natural realm.
I BIND MYSELF TO THE POWER OF HEAVEN:
the light of the sun,
the radiance of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the flashing of lightning,
the swiftness of wind,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of earth,
and firmness of rocks.
Pray a prayer of gratitude today for the inspiration that emanates from nature. Meditate upon the profound ways certain aspects of nature touch you and motivate you in your faith.

Day 3 Praying The Lorica – The Presence of God – The third major portion of Patrick’s Lorica pertains to God’s presence in Patrick’s life and with the ones who pray the Lorica.
I BIND MYSELF TO DAY:
God’s power to guide me.
God’s might to uphold me.
God’s wisdom to teach me.
God’s eye to watch over me.
God’s ear to hear me.
God’s word to give me speech.
Pray today with a keener sense of God’s nearness to you. Give thanks for the access to intimate communion with God that is available to all people.

Day 4 Praying The Lorica – Christ – This version of Patrick’s Lorica culminates with a focus on the figure of Christ.
Christ with me and before me.
Christ behind me and within me.
Christ to the right of me.
Christ to the left of me.
Christ above me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ in the heart of everyone one who thinks of me.
Christ in the heart of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me.
Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me.
Pray today sensing that you are surrounded by the caring, compassionate, forgiving, protecting presence of Christ, who wishes nothing but good things for you in your journey in faith.

Day 5 Legends based on Love – Recall how Patrick loved the people of Ireland with deep devotion. Remember that Patrick declared, on the closing page of his Confessio, that he “never had any cause but the Gospel and his promises forever returning to that nation from whence previously I scarcely escaped.”(8) Pray today a prayer of gratitude for the grand circle of his loving return to Ireland, for Patrick’s love of the Irish people, for the literary gift of his lovingly rendered Confessio.

Day 6 Celebrating All Things Irish – Pray today by remembering two phrases which are intoned regularly when St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: (a) “Erin go Braugh” (an anglicizing of the Irish phrase “Éirinn go Brách” – meaning “Ireland Forever”; (b) “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day.” Have a mini-St. Patrick’s Day celebration today by giving thanks for the Irish contributions to art, literature, music, and the world’s repository of wisdom.

Day 7 Praying with Analogies –Though steeped in legend and lore, the tradition of the shamrock being an analogy for the Holy Trinity of Christian faith still has power to communicate the presence, power, and unity of God. Pray today first by considering what indigenous feature of your landscape – broad horizons, steep mountains, fertile fields, livestock, skyscrapers and concrete canyons in the city, the primrose bush outside your kitchen window – might serve as an analogy for the powerful presence of the holy in your life. Simply be open to the nuances of meaning that such an analogy can stimulate in your faith.

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE – c. 376 CE, born Maewyn in village of Bannaven Taberniae, in Roman Britain, (or possibly in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland), son of Conchessa and Calpurnius, a deacon, and grandson of Potitus, a priest ; c. 392, along with sister Lupita, kidnaped by marauders and sold as slaves to Milcho in Dalaradia, the present county of Antrim, Ireland; works as shepherd in Ulster; turns to God, rising before daylight and praying outside, regardless of the weather; learns about Irish culture and language; receives vision that he will leave and sail on a ship, which he does; captured and kept in Tours, France for 60 days; receives vision of Victoricus giving him mission to bring Christian faith to Ireland; c. 397, returns to England and reunites with parents; c. 417, becomes priest, joining a monastery at Larins; studies under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre, France; c. 429, back in Britain, discerns a call to Ireland with the mission to convert pagans to Christianity; church officials sends St. Palladius instead; c. 431, Palladius returns from Ireland, his mission having failed(or because Palladius either dies or transfers to Scotland); c. 432, appointed by Pope Celestine as bishop of Ireland, sets out on mission to the Irish; c. 454, builds the Cathedral Church and monastery in Armagh as a center for education and administration; c. 455, writes Confessio (autobiography); c. 456, writes Epistle to Coroticus (protest against slavery); legend of driving out all snakes from Ireland is born; c. 461, retires and moves to County Down; c. March 17, 461, dies, presumably at Saul, on Strangford Lough in northeast Ireland; burial place unknown but traditionally understood to be at Downpatrick; shrine in County Down believed to possess his jawbone which can drive off the “evil eye,” help with childbirth, and cure epileptic fits; a few years after his death, Irish begin celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as religious holy day; March 17, 1737, first St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish immigrants in Boston, Massachusetts as a Catholic holy day; March 17, 1756, first St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in New York City in Crown and Thistle Tavern; March 17, 1762, first St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place in New York City led by Irish soldiers serving in the English military; August 15, 1858, cornerstone laid for current St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan, New York City, New York.(1)

NOTES

(1) All datings for Patrick’s life events marked with “c.”(“circa,” or “around”) are approximate. The estimations of several of St. Patrick’s achievements are best cherished as fond recollections by adoring hagiographers and not the work of historians. For a good example of the former see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm. For examples of the latter see Seán Mac Airt, “The Chronology of St. Patrick,” Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1956), p. 4 pp. 4-9; Phillip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004); Thomas O’Laughlin, Discovering St. Patrick (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2005).

(2) Patrick’s Lorica has long been connected with the Latin translation of a phrase by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:14.
(3) Courtney Davis, Saint Patrick: A Visual Celebration (London: Blandford Press, 1999), p. 31.

(4) There are numerous versions of Patrick’s Lorica, but this one has provided great encouragement and inspiration to many.

(5) See Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York: Nan. A. Talese/Doubleday, 1995).

(6) St. Patrick (Newport John Davis White, ed. and introd.) St. Patrick, his writings and life (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), p. 50.

(7) Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 113.

(8) St. Patrick, St. Patrick, his writings and life, p. 51.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Phillip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004)

Seán Mac Airt, “The Chronology of St. Patrick,” Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1956), pp. 4-9.

Thomas O’Laughlin, Discovering St. Patrick (Mahwah, New Jersey:
Thomas O’Rahilly, “The Two Patricks: A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-century Ireland,” Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1942, pp. 43-44.

St. Patrick, (Ed. and intro. by Newport John Davis White) St. Patrick, his writings and life (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920)

© Robert Lee Hill, 2020

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