Although St. Patrick's Day is now usually thought of as a day of parades and fun, the day is also a great opportunity to learn more about the saint it is named for, and more importantly, his famous prayer. Known simply as "St. Patrick's Breastplate" this prayer is not only beautiful and powerful in itself, it also exemplifies Celtic spirituality.
The entire prayer is quite lengthy, which makes sense considering St. Patrick's younger days. He writes that he spent hours alone during his captivity, tending the sheep. In his lonliness and isolation, God became his friend. St. Patrick spent hours in prayer, doubtless composing prayers like this to give himself hope and sustain him during the long years.
During the month of March, we'll look at the different stanzas of this prayer, and see if we can find inspiration ourselves. The first two stanzas are below.
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.
The stanza above frames the prayer. It is one of two bookends - the first bookend starts off the prayer, and then it is repeated again at the very end. It is through this vision - St. Patrick's famous inspiration of the Trinity - that he writes the entire prayer. The words "I arise" allude to the common Scriptural theme of "Wake up!" The time is now! As the angels said at the ascension "What are you waiting for?"
St. Patrick reminds himself to be awake and alert, of not just moving unthinkingly and asleep through the day. He goes on to profess his belief in the Trinity, and says he draws all of his strength from this belief in the unity of the Triune God, the same God who is 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.
The second stanza starts again with the "Arise today!" theme, and focuses on the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. In it, St. Patrick combines his own small strength with the much greater strength of Jesus. He names some of the key moments in Jesus' ministry, his baptism, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension and then looks forward in time to Jesus' second coming in glory, which he refers to as the "judgment of doom," when time will cease with the Final Judgement. All of these events in the life of Jesus popint to new life. From his baptism to to his ascent, these are all invitations to join in the inner life of the Trinity through participating in the life of Christ. St. Patrick clearly thought he could only be successful in his ministry in the extent he was joined to Christ. It was not enough to simply remember what Jesus had done. Jesus had to become present in the life of Patrick, his efforts had to be united to Christ's.
Say the two stanzas above slowly, thinking about each word. Next week, we'll look at the 3rd and 4th stanzas.