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 every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
(from St. Patrick’s Breastplate)
St. Patrick is one of my favourite people from our Christian past. He was not born in Ireland but probably either in what is today known as Wales or in the North of France. At the age of 16 he was taken into captivity to Ireland, and as he admits in his “Confessions” at that time he “did not know the true God”. This is the image I have of that incident as it was happening: Patrick was on a ship, with thousands of others being kidnapped at the same time, and as they are being taken to Ireland, the Trinity looks down from Heaven; God’s gaze, like the lights on a stage, focuses on Patrick and God says, “This is the lad I want, I choose him to do my work”. That decision and Patrick’s openness to it changed the history not only of Ireland – but it changed Patrick too.
That same gaze is on us too. St. John of the Cross, a Carmelite mystic, speaks about a God who “constantly gazes at the universe, with a look that ‘cleanses, makes beautiful, enriches and enlightens’” (I. Matthew, The Impact of God, 112.). Same as Patrick, we need to allow to be captured by that gaze of God’s love; the gaze that will water the thirsty well of our souls, and nurture it with God’s Presence. St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a very good prayer for practicing the Presence of God, especially if we pray it slowly, attentively. It brings to our awareness that Christ is everywhere we go. As Jesus said, “I am with you until the end of times”.
Now we remember Patrick as a saint, but he did not become who God intended him to be overnight. It took years for God’s plan to slowly enfold in his life. God used Patrick’s captivity for a good purpose; He made Himself known to Patrick, perhaps through those long moments of minding sheep and cattle somewhere on the Irish hills. Patrick’s calling was shaped like a pearl that is being formed out of dust. Dust coming into a shell is like any bad experience we might have in life. God’s grace and the presence of Christ transformed what could have been an extremely awful experience of captivity by forming Patrick into one the greatest missionaries the world has known. God can use any of our life difficulties too to draw us closer to Himself and to His purposes for us.
As I was reflecting on Patrick’s life a thought struck me: God was here before Patrick, God had a dwelling place in Ireland then, and He dwells here now. Patrick was open to recognise Him; Christ dealt with Patrick on a very personal, heart-to-heart level, as He does with us today as well. When Patrick came back to Ireland it was to give back to Ireland only what he himself received here – faith in Christ. Patrick is an icon of someone who mirrored God’s love to the people of this island, and through the communion of saints he does so to this very day. Patrick came to show Ireland, and all of us here, that we are the Beloved of God, which is after all the central message of the Gospel.
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland