Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Arise Today...

Green beer. Leprechauns. Blarney and pots of gold. All sorts of things come out of the woodwork every March 17th in the United States as we get ready to celebrate everything Irish for St. Patrick’s Day. This Saturday, I plan on indulging in my favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition. No, I don’t paint my cheeks with “Erin Go Bragh” or pin a leprechaun button on my shirt. Instead, I pull my copy of The Confession of St. Patrick off of my bookshelf and reacquaint myself with the amazing man whose name has become famous but whose life and legacy are often forgotten. I won’t give you a biography of St. Patrick today, but merely a glimpse of what you can discover through his written work.
Yes, St. Patrick did exist. While exact dates of birth, death, and work in Ireland are hazy at best, the fact remains that he was real and he did spread the word of God in Ireland. He was not the first to do so but he seems to have been the most effective. While other missionaries, namely Palladius, were not familiar with the Irish people they were trying to convert, Patrick had lived in Ireland for many years and had a deep respect and love for the Irish and their culture. Two historical documents have come down to the 21st century from this holy man of long ago. One is A Letter to Coroticus, Patrick’s response to a Roman general that had been kidnapping Irish people and forcing them into slavery. A former slave himself, Patrick’s ardor and strength of character are evident in every word. The second document is my favorite. The Confession of St. Patrick is an autobiography of sorts, in which Patrick explains the beginning of his own faith and dependence on God, his call to Ireland, and his work there. It reveals a man who was very different from the well-known depictions of an aged, white-haired, stooped man in a cloak. Patrick was tough, he was strong, he was quick-witted. He greatly respected the Irish people; he knew the Irish language. He felt uncomfortable and embarrassed of his lack of learning, especially his Latin. He was adamant and he didn’t back down. He was a force to be reckoned with, but also gentle and caring. He admired women and welcomed them with equal fervor to the fold. He felt grief, he felt doubt, he felt shame for the sins he committed in the past. He embraced the Celtic Irish culture, allowing it to flourish alongside the new Christian religion, thus preserving a language and an oral literature that otherwise would have disappeared. And, most admirably of all (for me), he had a very strong faith, a true faith. Not a faith of recent times, dripping in judgment and hypocrisy. But a true, unwavering faith in a power that loved all man... not because we deserve it, but because grace is stronger than our proclivity to sin. I think I would have liked to have known him- each time I read his work, I feel a little closer to a man I greatly admire and gain a little more inspiration on how to live my own life.
There is a poem attributed to St. Patrick that is fitting for today called “Faed Fiada” in Irish and “The Cry of the Deer” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” in English. Simple yet profound, it is a fitting symbol of how the Christian faith and the Celtic culture converged and intertwined, creating a beautiful and powerful new culture. As Katherine Scherman writes in The Flowering of Ireland, “If Patrick did write exhibits not only his glowing imagination but an intuitive appreciation of the pagan background of his adopted country.” When I read it, I picture a man standing on a hilltop, shouting his words to the sun and the wind, celebrating God, celebrating the Earth, celebrating life. It is moving in its imagery and I share it with you today.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
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.
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.

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