When it comes to Saint Patrick, the truth is better than the fiction. The story of the actual historic character is far more compelling than the contemporary caricatures and long before the day was associated with leprechauns and pots of gold, it was about the testimony of a man who confessed a faith in Christ so compelling, his influence changed a nation.
Patrick died on this day in 461 A.D. Unlike other figures of history whom we celebrate on the day they were born, St Patrick’s day is March 17 because that’s the day he died. That seems noteworthy to me. Today we remember St Patrick who was born in 385 in Roman Britannia in the modern-day town of Dumbarton, Scotland. His autobiographical work, St. Patrick’s Confession opens with these lines:
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time.
Pause there for a moment. At sixteen, Patrick was captured by barbarian Irish pirates and enslaved for six years. The pirates took Patrick from his home on the coast some 200 miles inland where he was a shepherd and farm laborer. As he recalls it, he simply saw an escape route. Whether a dream or a vision is disputed, but Patrick made his break and traveled back over the 200 miles to the shoreline. As he approached the docks, he saw a British ship and Patrick simply got on board.
Patrick’s faith in Christ was galvanized during his imprisonment. And back in his homeland he became a priest and over time became overwhelmed with a spiritual burden for the people who had been his captors. That’s when Patrick returned to Ireland on a mission to see pagan Ireland converted to Christ.
At the time, Loegaire was the pagan king of Ireland and although he initially resisted Patrick’s appeals, Patrick persisted. The king converted and after Patrick baptized him, many of the people of Ireland followed suit. People were reborn to a living hope – and an entirely new social ethic. The culture and her people were literally transformed.
If you read the true stories of Patrick you’ll discover much of what we think we know about him is fictional. Including the fact that he’s not actually a saint. At least not by Roman Catholic Church standards. He was never canonized.
One of true artifacts from the life of this remarkable saint (small s like the rest of us) is St. Patrick’s lorica, prayer of protection, usually referred to as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” Loricas were prayers often inscribed on the shields of soldiers and knights as they went out to battle. St. Patrick’s Lorica points not to himself but to Christ, the One for whom he led a captive people, once his own captors, to true freedom:
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.