Outside the church, St. Patrick is most associated with shamrocks, leprechauns, Guinness, and all the other popular imagery of Ireland. But inside the church, Patrick, who (unlike St. Valentine) most would agree is an actual historical figure, credited with the conversion of the island of Ireland to Christianity some 1500 years ago.
A rich tradition surrounds St. Patrick, remembering him as a beloved itinerant preacher, walking through the countryside with a shepherd’s crook, drawing inspiration from the Irish landscape to reveal theological truths. For instance, it’s said that Patrick used the image of the shamrock to describe the Trinity. Just as God exists in essential oneness yet in three “persons,” the shamrock has three leaves, yet one stem.
Patrick also left behind a beautiful, poetic, and deeply theological “prayer for protection,” known as a “lorica.” As the story goes, he lifted this prayer as he was being pursued by the armies of his enemies. At the time of the would-be ambush, when he and his monks walked by, they appeared to those lying in wait as “wild deer with a fawn following them,” and escaped to safety.
The full prayer (known by various names: St. Patrick’s Breastplate, The Lorica of St. Patrick, St. Patrick’s Hymn, or even The Deer’s Cry) is quite long, but often appears in a truncated form:
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.
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.
Remembering these parts of his tradition, St. Patrick’s Day comes at just the right time of year, as the world around us awakes from the browns and grays of winter into the vibrant greens of spring, and we in the church continue our Lenten journey to new life. We, too, might pray for protection, that we would arise each day in the knowledge of the love of God and the abiding presence of the one with whom we walk this journey.