In the Spirit of St. Patrick

Luke 13:31-35

Today, we celebrate a people of faith with prayer and reflection, not green beer or Irish whiskey.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we embrace the spirituality of Celtic Christians, adventurers of faith, who followed God’s call to share good news in uncharted and dangerous places.  Life was hard for these Celtic pilgrims, but they trusted God on land and sea, to bring them to their place of resurrection, the place where they could live out God’s dream for their lives.

The names of these Celtic adventurers, living in Scotland, Ireland, and England – are many – Columba, Brigid, Ninian, Cuthbert – but we celebrate this day the work of Patrick, who lived in the fifth century and became the Bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.

Life was precarious, and often dangerous in the fifth century.  At sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and sold into slavery, where for six years, he watched over his owner’s flock. One night, he had a dream, a vision from God, promising him freedom, and shortly thereafter he fled home to Britain, where he was reunited with his family, and hoped to return to a quiet domestic life.

But, sometimes, God changes our plans.  Once again, Patrick has a divine visitation – I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

Can you imagine how he felt, being asked to return to a place of trauma?  Who would want to return to the site of enslavement?  But there are times when God calls and we have no choice but to say “Yes!  Here I am! Send me!”

In returning to a place of pain, sometimes we can experience a healing of memories, a transformation of trauma, and out of our healing help others find their way.

And so, Patrick spends the remainder of his life serving God in Ireland, sharing the gospel and baptizing thousands in the place where he once was a captive. Whether or not Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, the emerald island was forever changed by his ministry and God’s message went forth into the all the earth.

Patrick was a teacher, and legend has it that used the Shamrock to explain how God is both one and three.

Though he became a leader of the Irish church, his life was often at risk.  Patrick is known for his Breastplate prayer.  Shrouded in legend, the prayer is identified with a moment in Patrick’s life, when a chieftain had put a price on his head for preaching the message of Jesus.  As his sojourns across the countryside one day, he hears approaching hoof beats, and sees knights hell-bent on killing the missionary.

With death immanent, Patrick utters the prayer –

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

And then the words, reminding him and us that God is always near and that a circle of protection always surrounds us:

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 arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Legend has it that Patrick escaped from the chieftain’s minions.  His pursuers saw only a deer bounding across the road. Somehow, as the Celtic mythology asserts, Patrick’s shape shifted, fooling his enemies and allowing him to continue his journey.

Last week, I spoke of the encircling prayer. A prayer in which you draw a circle around yourself in the imagination or by rotating.  I use this prayer often, when I take a journey, hop a plane, or deal with conflicts.


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 all around me.

Peace descends, we are safe, regardless of external circumstances, whether in a hospital room or a challenging situation.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, let us remember bold parents of faith, who believed with author of Psalm 139:

If I ascend to the heavens,

You are there,

If I fall into the depths,

You are there.

If darkness – grief, pain, depression, fear – covers me

You are there.

For darkness is light to you, O God.

Let us celebrate with Patrick, God who is with us as we drive to work, log on to our computer, put our children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces to bed, at the store, the movies, on a trip, or even when we’re in trouble. In all these, God is with us, and we are safe in the loving circle of God’s love.