St Patrick’s Day, 17 March

St Patrick: A prophet for global justice
St. Patrick is one of a handful of Christian saints (along with Mary, Valentine and Francis) celebrated in popular culture. Most people know that the missionary Patrick (Patricius or Pádraig) helped to bring Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century. Some may remember how his first visit to the island was as a slave. Sadly, only a few may remember Patrick’s opposition to structural injustice and his prophetic defence of victims of violence and human trafficking. As with so many of our saints, Patrick’s radical application of the Gospel has been domesticated and stripped of its challenging message. Rather than witnessing to the prophetic and loving call of God’s mission, Patrick has been turned into a caricature, and commercialised. In his open Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Patrick publicly denounced Coroticus, a warlord (and possibly king) from his British homeland, because he practised taking Irish slaves. The letter begins by denouncing those who engage in the slave trade and laments deeply the loss of all those touched by the evil of slavery. Such practices dehumanise both the victim and the perpetrator.Sadly this is very relevant to our present context. Millions of people still profit from the mistreatment, low wages and dehumanizing working conditions imposed on others. Modern slavery continues to thrive in the chocolate industry, and it’s something we need to be thinking about particularly at this time of year as we shop for Easter eggs. 

Recent studies have estimated that there are around 2 million child labourers in west Africa. These children have been duped, trafficked across borders and forced into servitude to fuel our demand for chocolate. These children work extreme hours in dangerous situations. The work is hard and relentless. They use machetes, pesticides and other chemicals, all without safety equipment. If they fail to meet quotas or are deemed not working hard enough, they are beaten. All this, for chocolate. Child slavery is devastating for the children involved, but it also impacts the country. Enslaved children are unable to go to school, permanently stunting their academic capabilities. In turn, this prevents them from working in legitimate businesses that contribute to the economy, depriving the country of significant economic growth.

“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always
a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” (Pope Francis, 2015)

Prayer (from St Patrick’s Lorica)
I summon today all these powers between me and evil, 
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul. 
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 in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, 
Through a belief in the Threeness, 
Through a confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation
St. Patrick (ca. 377)

This prayer is known widely as “Morning Prayer,” “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” or “The Lorica.” It’s not known whether St. Patrick is actually the author or whether someone else wrote it years later and it was attributed to St. Patrick. But it is widely associated with him and his ministry.
“As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.
May Christ shield me today.
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,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone 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.

A prayer adapted from St Patrick’s Breastplate
We bind unto ourselves today
the strong name of the trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in three.
We bind this day to us forever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River; his death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom; We bind unto ourselves today.
We cast off the works of darkness today,
And put on the armour of light,
Light before us and behind,
Light within and light without,
Light to guide and to lead us,
Let us clothe ourselves with Christ.
Christ behind us, Christ before us,
Christ beside us, Christ to win us,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love us,
Christ in mouth of friend & stranger
Let us wrap ourselves around with the belt of truth,
And strap on the breastplate of righteousness,
Let us clad our feet with the gospel of peace,
place the helmet of salvation on our heads.
And take up the shield of faith.
Let us clothe ourselves with Christ.
We bind unto ourselves today, the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, God’s ear to harken to our need,
The wisdom of our God to teach, God’s hand to guide, and shield to ward,
The Word of God to give us speech, God’s heavenly host to be our guard.
In the love of God who shelters us,
In the light of Christ who walks beside us,
In the power of the Spirit who dwells within us,
We place ourselves today.
Let us clothe ourselves with Christ.
We bind unto ourselves today the strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal God, Spirit, Word;
Praise to the God of our salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
(Source: Christine Sine, Godspace)

About St Patrick (source: Patheos)
Born in 387 AD, Patrick was not a particularly devout youth when he was captured at age 16 by Irish marauders. But during his six years of slaving as a shepherd in Ireland, he discovered a deep faith in Christ. He wrote of his conversion in his memoir, Confessio:
And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
Patrick escaped after following instructions from God in a dream to go to the coast where he would find passage on a ship. He returned to his family, but a few years later, he had another vision:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish.” . . . and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
The vision prompted Patrick to study for the priesthood, which led to his ordination as a bishop. But he couldn’t forget Ireland. He sailed back in 433 and preached to – and converted – many all over Ireland for almost forty years. He also served the poor, suffered hardships, and wrote of his love for God in Confessio. Patrick died March 17, 461, in Saul, Ireland, where he had built the first Irish church. Tradition maintains that his grave lies at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
Legends abound regarding Patrick. Two of the most enduring: He purportedly drove the snakes off the island (likely a metaphor for driving out Druidism, which was symbolized by snakes). And stories tell of how he used the green three-leafed clover, a shamrock, to teach the Trinity. Legend has it that Patrick created the design of the Celtic cross on a day when he was preaching close to a pagan standing stone. Potential converts considered such stones sacred because they already carried carvings of a circle, a symbol of the sun or moon gods. As the legend says, Patrick drew a cross through the circle and then blessed the stone. In thus creating the first Irish Celtic Cross, he displayed his willingness to adapt heathen practices and symbols to Christian beliefs as a way of easing the transition from pagan to Christian.
The Legacy
Deep faith: Visions and dreams played an important part in the spiritual life during Patrick’s time. He obeyed God’s call to return to the island on which he had been enslaved. He first repaid his slave price to his former captor, then confronted druids and royalty in dramatic fashion. God called him to preach and pray, serve and suffer, though he did not always feel worthy or able.
Evangelistic fervor: Patrick’s mission in life was to bring people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. He spent over thirty years preparing and almost forty years evangelizing the lost people of Ireland.
Love for God: Indeed, everything Patrick did – each journey, each task, each sermon, each prayer – sprang from an all-consuming devotion to Jesus. He considered Christ as his savior (spiritually), his rescuer (literally), his redeemer, his leader.
Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.
I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth.

Could be developed as prayers for others: St. Patrick was originally kept as a slave and eventually rose to freedom. So let us do all we can to help alleviate the suffering of the forgotten, the impoverished, and put an end to child suffering, abuse, and slavery, and to enable children and their families to access education, training and awareness programs.

Where legend and truth meet in the middle
Interestingly, the last glacial period (some 10,000-100,000 years ago, depending on whom you ask) beat St. Patrick to the snake banishing. But, Christian tradition has given Patrick all the credit. So, if there weren’t snakes around during Patrick’s day, what’s with the legend?
We do know that St. Patrick was a missionary to Ireland. His goal was to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. From all accounts, he was very successful. We know the pagans of Ireland as the Druids. Their symbol was … the snake.
Today, Christians assert that St. Patrick only banished a sacrificial Druid religion, an expulsion symbolically represented by the banishment of snakes. Pagans, on the other hand, claim that St. Patrick forced Christian conversion with the threat of violence, and actually killed many Druid priests who refused to convert.
It sounds to me like one side glorifies St. Patrick as a peaceful man doing the Lord’s peaceful work while demonizing a corrupt Druid culture by accusing it of practicing child sacrifice. The other side glorifies Druid culture as living in innocent harmony with nature while demonizing St. Patrick by accusing him of being a violent missionary.
I’m not interested in glorifying or demonizing either side. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe the best we can learn from the tradition of St. Patrick and the Druids is that we humans have a long tradition of scapegoating one another. We continue to demonize our scapegoats. Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor – we tend to think that we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. All the while neglecting that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
(from an article by Adam Ericksen, Saint Patrick, Druids and the Snakes: The Truth is in the Middle)

(see also St Brigit, another Irish saint)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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