Have you ever heard the real story of St. Patrick? You’d be hard-pressed to figure it out when you think of how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated. The true story has nothing to do with leprechauns or the “luck of the Irish.”
St. Patrick’s Day originated as a way to honor the first missionary who brought the Gospel to the Emerald Isle. While the exact details of his life are uncertain, what we do know is an incredible story of God’s heart for those living in darkness.
Although a teenager in what were the Dark Ages, Patrick was a well-educated young man. But Irish raiders kidnapped him from his home in Great Britain and sold him into slavery. An Irish tribal lord forced him to work as a shepherd over his herds. At the end of that time, he was able to escape his master and flee to the coast of Ireland where, miraculously, he was able to board a ship that took him to the continent. He eventually sought refuge in a monastery where he experienced a life-transformation through the story of Jesus Christ.
He would have had good reason to stay safe in Europe, but he felt a strong call by God to return to Ireland to preach Christianity.
The God who had granted him both physical and spiritual freedom wanted him to preach a message of freedom to the people who were enslaved by sin and pagan worship.
As you can imagine, Patrick faced much opposition as a foreigner coming to preach against the ancient practices of Celtic paganism. At one point, it is said that as he was on his missionary journey through the Irish countryside, an ambush was set for him. But Patrick and his traveling companions went unseen. Out of this experience of miraculous protection, Patrick wrote the prayer we know today as St. Patrick’s Breastplate.
Because my grandmother, Anna O’Casey, was born in Northern Ireland (she was a strong follower of Jesus), I decided years ago to memorize Patrick’s best-known portion of that prayer – it was a way of saluting my Irish heritage, and I share it with you today:
Christ behind me, and Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, and Christ above me,
Christ to my right, and Christ to my left,
Christ when I lie down, and Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mind of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, and
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I so appreciate other parts of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, including these lines – try memorizing them, for they would make a great morning prayer as you awake to face your day:
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.
Through this man’s willingness to return to the people who had enslaved him, he brought the light of Christ to Ireland and changed forever its spiritual landscape.
That is why he is remembered today, on the anniversary of his death, as a hero of Ireland. And so, whether you are wearing green today or not, be encouraged by this little history lesson… and the reminder that Christ is beneath you, in you, before you and behind you!