THE FEAST OF ST. PATRICK
According to Thomas Cahill in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick was a “first” in several ways.
He was the first missionary to barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law. St. Paul is fully noted to be the first great missionary. But four centuries would pass before another would experience a similar sense of overwhelming mission: Patrick. Between those two there were no others. “Patrick was really a first – the first missionary to barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law. The step he took was in its way as bold as Columbus’s, and a thousand times more humane.” Patrick was himself aware of just how radical and dangerous a venture he took on when he proposed to civilize the Celts. As he himself wrote: “Every day I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved.”
Patrick was also the “first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery. Nor will any voice as strong as his be heard again till the seventeenth century.”
He was also the first to find “a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming the Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.” Even Patrick’s great prayer in Irish – sometimes called “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” – was “the first ringing assertion that the universe itself is the Great Sacrament, magically designed by its loving Creator to bless and succor human beings. This earliest expression of European vernacular poetry … would go on to animate the best poetry of the Middle Ages.”
His poetic prayer still enchants and inspires 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 heart that hears me.
May the courage, the passion for ending all forms of slavery, and the depth of faith that was Patrick become our very own.