St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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While St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated with green beer and faux Irish accents, it will be possible to miss the story of the prayer life of the man behind the day.

Patrick was born around 385 A.D. in Scotland. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britian in charge of the colonies.

As a boy “not yet sixteen,” he would write in his Confessions, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep.

But it was also “in this awful experience of alienation and exile,” John O’Donahue notes, “that he discovers God as his anam-cara.  Anam is the Celtic word of soul, and cara is the word for friend.” This understanding of God as the Anam-cara is one of the most beautiful concepts of the Celtic tradition.

Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped to the coast and found sailors who took him back to Britian, where he reunited with his family. You’d think that having escaped one’s capturers, one would be happy to stay far enough away, but Patrick had a dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

Though he obsessively dwells on his lack of learning, he reveals that (Confessions,#10, 11), “I now have the audacity in old age to try and attain something which I failed to achieve in my youth… for I am short on learning and slow in my speech.” Thus he began his studies for the priesthood and was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years.

Patrick was ordained a bishop, and returned to the Island of his captivity on March 25, 433.  He would write (Confessions, #56), “I commend my soul to my God who is utterly faithful, for whom, in spite of my obscurity, I act as an ambassador.”

He lived his ambassadorial roles of teaching, establishing schools, monasteries & churches, living in poverty, and enduring suffering & opposition.  He died March 17, 461.

Here is a portion of the prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

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 where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,

Christ in every heart who thinks of me, Christ in every mouth who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

For more, go to “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” to see the entire prayer.

For a brief history, see “The History of St. Patrick.”

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About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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