Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

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Ireland’s history is filled with tales of trial and tribulation. Indeed, it is a common theme. Many of these tails end in tragedy.

But once in a while they end in triumph.

St. Patrick’s tale is one of encouragement because it’s a classic example of tragedy turned to triumph. What was meant for evil turned out for good. For me, there’s a raw beauty in it because it serves as yet another instance where we see the answer to that age old question:

Why does God allow evil in this world?

By now, most people are at least vaguely familiar with St. Patrick’s story. But just in case you’re not, let me give you a little run down.

Patrick, whose real name was Maewyn Succat, was a Romano-Britain, born to Calpornius, a decurion and municipal official as well as a deacon in his local church. Patrick’s grandfather, Potitus, was a presbyter. Despite this patrilineal Christian heritage, Patrick did not hold to the faith.

At age 16, he and his sister were abducted by Irish raiders, commanded, as it were, by one of Ireland’s more notorious kings, Niall Naoi Ghiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages). Patrick’s sister ended up in Connacht, while Patrick was taken to the hills of Antrim between Lough Neagh and the mountains of Sliabh Mis. There he became the slave of a local petty king, chief Miliucc (Milchu). Miliucc promptly assigned Patrick to the sheep and swine herds. In Ireland, particularly during the Middle Ages, a herdsman’s life could be bitterly isolated. Sheep and swine were often kept apart from the protection of the community, since both beasts could be particularly damaging on farming and grazing land. Certain pastures or spaces were designated for sheep and pig raising. Combine this with the herdsmen’s natural movement of animals from summer to winter pastures, where they would remain for that period of the year – well, one would have no trouble imagining how lonesome a life a shepherd could lead. Double the disparity for a slave with no status in a clan.

Exchange with other humans would have been limited to whomever Miliucc placed in charge of his herds. Aside from the mercies, or lack, of that individual, Patrick’s only constant companions were hunger and nakedness.

Oh! And sheep and pigs. Can’t forget them.

For six years, this was Patrick’s life. As you might presume, such isolation would cause a person to turn inward. Patrick found himself contemplating the God he formerly rejected. Soon prayer filled the daylight hours while he toiled among the herds.

He would later attest “I would wake and pray before daybreak – through snow, frost, rain – nor was there any sluggishness in me (such as I experience nowadays) because then the Spirit within me was ardent.”

Patrick found Christ in the wilderness. And through Christ, a reason to live.

At the end of six years in slavery, in his early twenties, Patrick received a vision in his sleep. A voice spoke to him saying, “Your hungers are rewarded: you are going home.” The voice startled Patrick from his sleep. As he arose, the voice continued, “Look, your ship is ready.”

To Patrick, there could be no clearer affirmation. God was providing him a means of escape. He took it, traveling southeast through unfamiliar territory until he reached what most presume was the area of modern-day Wexford. That he, a fugitive slave, traveled so far eluding capture, was miraculous in itself. What followed – more so.

Sailors, taking a cargo of hounds to sell (a prized commodity) took Patrick on board with them. The tale tells that it took some convincing, but eventually Patrick was granted passage with them. An arduous journey followed, eventually restoring Patrick to his homeland and his parents.

Years after this, Patrick received another vision which pierced his soul. In it, he saw a man named Victoricus, coming from Ireland with countless letters in his possession. One of these, he gave to Patrick. As Patrick began to read the letter, he distinctively heard the voices of those he remembered in the land of his captivity.

“And thus they cried as with one mouth,” he proclaimed, “We beseech thee, holy youth, to come hither and walk once more among us.”

This plea ringing in his ears, Patrick decided then and there to make Ireland his mission field. There, he would spread the message of Christ. Patrick struggled through his studies in the monastery he placed himself within, and eventually became ordained as a priest and bishop. Afterward, Patrick returned to Ireland, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If the tale of St. Patrick’s life fails to attest to his fervent dependence on God, this great prayer attributed to him, fills the gap. Known by most as “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate”, it is filled with determination and strength – not in self, but the God who faithfully brought Patrick through his darkest hours to the light of new life. Most people have heard a portion of this poem. I believe that you cannot appreciate it fully without reading it in it’s entirety.  So in closing…

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,

Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,

Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,

Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In prayers of patriarchs,

In predictions of prophets,

In preaching of apostles,

In faith of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

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 way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From everyone who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom,

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

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.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness,

Of the Creator of Creation.

Author’s Note:

I’ve discussed how we incorporate this story and other fun activities in our homeschool studies. You can read that article over at Her View From Home. http://herviewfromhome.com/la-fheile-padraig-sona-daoibh-happy-st-patricks-day/

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