Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

A deep financial crisis, in part aggravated by the pressure of wars that just didn't seem to end, contributed to the demise of the imperial presence in the far-off land.

A deep financial crisis, in part aggravated by the pressure of wars that just didn’t seem to end, contributed to the demise of the imperial presence in the far-off land. The legions of the invaders who had dominated much of the island for nearly four centuries, had to be redeployed when their own capital, Rome, faced threats from Germanic forces pouring across already destabilized European frontiers. Roman rule of their province of Britannia basically ended when Emperor Honorius told the Roman Britons to look after their own defence in 410.

From what we know of the life of St. Patrick, this is the world he grew up in during the late 4th century. His home, in an Old Welsh-speaking area of Cumbria at the very northern edge of Roman Britannia, suffered the increasing predations of raids from the north as well as from across the Irish Sea as Roman power declined. Captured and enslaved by raiders himself around 403, his long association with Ireland began in forced servitude.

A prayer attributed to St. Patrick called the Lorica of St. Patrick or St. Patrick’s Breastplate reads in part:

I arise today

Through the strength of

heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendour of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

Cumbria’s standing stones still provide silent witness to the spiritual strivings of its inhabitants over the millennia. Some commentators see the rhythm and cadence of St. Patrick’s prayer as drawing on the style of more ancient Druidic hymns. This religious tradition had dominated Celtic Europe, the British Isles and Cumbria before the coming of Christianity during the Roman era. St. Patrick would take his awareness of earlier traditions and his Christianity to the Emerald Isle.

Religious beliefs continually witness to the dynamic interplay of cultures and changing socio-political realities as well as other aspects of human evolution such as the advancements of science. As communication technologies increasingly meld previously disparate peoples together into a global family, we have to come to see and recognize ourselves in those once-foreign, even-hostile others as St. Patrick eventually saw himself in the Irish.

In the Yukon, as elsewhere, we have to not only welcome the newcomers in our midst but seek to understand and respect the cultures and traditions they bring to our communities. We grow as we recognize our common humanity. This recognition implies a willingness, as well, to reach out beyond national borders to those in need. Our assistance of overseas development efforts led by Yukoners in lands such as Haiti, Nepal and Kenya or through the Lenten campaigns of many of our churches, provide one concrete avenue for engagement.

Another opportunity comes through supporting refugee settlement in the territory. To this end a meeting has been called for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20th in the CYO Hall at 4th and Steele to explore the possibility of a local ecumenical refugee support initiative. The global need to provide safe havens for families displaced by war or other human and natural disasters continues to grow. Yukoners have met this challenge before can they do it now? All are welcome and for more information please call Rev. Beverly Brazier at 393-5010.

As St. Patrick prayed, so can we:

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…

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.

Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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