One of my most meaningful experiences while in Ireland after graduating college was climbing Croagh Patrick, a place of pilgrimage in County Mayo where St. Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent in fasting and prayer. Ascending to the summit, there were tiles with words and prayers of St. Patrick leading one to prayer and reflection.
Upon my return home, it filled me with curiosity to learn more about the spirituality of this patron saint of mine, as well as a deeper connection to my Irish heritage.
While St. Patrick is known for bringing Christianity to Ireland, his spirituality and life are important not just for the Irish but the whole world. When he first came to the country as a slave, Ireland was deeply spiritual; Celtic spirituality was connected to nature.
Patrick brought the truth of Jesus and the Gospel while connecting it to Celtic traditions. For us living in 2023, there are opportunities to connect with and live the spirituality of St. Patrick.
The Confessio of St. Patrick (similar to St. Augustine’s “Confessions”) was written in the late fifth century and is the short autobiographical account of the saint’s life. He shares the story of his life — being kidnapped by Irish pirates at 16 from Britain, coming to faith in Jesus, the conversion of the country of Ireland and processing the whole of his life, wishing to leave a legacy that in his own words: I might leave something of value to the many thousands of people I have baptized in the Lord.
This is such inspiration for us striving to follow Jesus today. The journey and life story of St. Patrick invites us to wrestle with and consider these questions: Who is God for me? How do I contribute to the coming of the kingdom of God? What is God’s plan for my life? Where am I invited to serve?
The “Confessio” of St. Patrick is an invitation to wrestle with and seek God through our longings, desires and experiences — to find God in the middle of our present life, just like St. Patrick.
Like Patrick, each of us has a spiritual journey, a unique story that unfolds over time with many high and low points. As St. Patrick kept an account of his walk with Christ over the years, consider writing your own story as a way to remember and see God’s presence with you at each step of your life — even at times, when you weren’t necessarily following God.
If “The “Confessio” gives us a deeper sense of who St. Patrick was and his life story, The Breastplate of St. Patrick captures his spirituality. Also called the Lorica, from the Latin word for “Roman armor,” this is a prayer of spiritual protection. Rich in theological teaching, it begins by invoking the blessing and protection of the Holy Trinity — a teaching that Patrick used to bring Christianity to the Irish people: 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 part of this prayer I find most moving and applicable is towards the end, where St. Patrick gives very concrete descriptions of Christ’s presence all around us in our daily lives, at every moment of every single day, we are swimming in the presence of God all around us: 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.
Sometimes I think it is all too easy to separate a relationship with Jesus from the daily life we live. And yet, this portion of the prayer is an invitation for us all to remember Jesus is ever-present and with us, even in the most mundane moments. How does a realization like this change how we view our daily lives? If Christ is truly before and behind me, on my right and left, am I ever truly alone in this life?
The Epistola or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus is another forceful piece penned by St. Patrick. Here, he writes to a group of nominally Christian British raiders who went westward in Ireland, murdering or enslaving some of Patrick’s converts. This is a letter of condemnation and righteous anger on behalf of Patrick; he uses their evil actions as a teaching moment for Coroticus and his men to repent of their sins and return their captives to their homeland.
In the “Epistola,” the reader is given a vivid picture of what life was like in post-Roman Britain, and what a commitment it was to follow Jesus and live according to his teachings in a pagan and anti-Christian world. Patrick writes, “With my own hand I have written and put together these words to be given and handed on and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus.” He continues on, “I cannot say that they are my fellow-citizens, nor fellow-citizens of the saints of Rome, but fellow-citizens of demons, because of their evil works. By their hostile ways they live in death, allies of the apostate Scots and Piets. They are blood-stained: blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.”
What does this rather intense, fiery letter from St. Patrick have to offer us? Sin and evil always have consequences in the world around us. We see and hear about it all the time. It is a never-ending cycle of brokenness and evil perpetuated when people live and act in contrary ways to God. Choices always have consequences, even when we don’t see or believe it — there is always a cause and effect at work.
And even in the fallen world we live in, there is an invitation for you and me just like there was for St. Patrick: How am I invited to bring about God’s kingdom in this fallen world? Where do I need to stand up for justice and speak up about evil? Where does God need my voice, actions and words?
In writing this letter, Patrick answered the call to an evil situation in his time. Wherever God has placed you is an invitation to do the same.
While many Americans will celebrate March 17 with green beer and lively parades, there is a deeper invitation for us to discover this patron saint of Ireland. The wisdom and practicality of his spirituality still have relevance and meaning for us. May we invoke his powerful intercession as we seek to bring Jesus to the world we live in.