The sheep are due to lamb any day now but they’re ready for the “wearing o' the green”— thanks to the alfalfa that falls from the hay feeder onto their mop-tops. Of course, the “luck of the Irish” is everyone’s wish on St. Patrick’s Day but as “labor day” approaches, I’m counting on more than luck. Good thing St. Patrick was a shepherd—yes, a shepherd of sheep and not just of humans. It’s a comfort to know that when I ask him to pray for us and for our flock, no explanation is necessary. He’s been there. Done that.
A little background: St. Patrick (who was actually born in Roman Britain in 387) is best known for evangelizing Ireland with the help of his band of followers and a few shamrocks in hand. But well before that, having been born into wealth, he was your typical disinterested teenager, with no real affiliation or respect for the Christian religion of his devout family. At 16, he was abducted from his village by Irish raiders (aka "pirates"), imprisoned on a ship bound for Ireland, and forced to tend the flocks of a fierce Irish chieftain on the rugged, isolated slopes of the Slemish Mountain in Northern Ireland. He persevered for six, long years, enduring loneliness, extremes of weather, hunger, enslavement, and the loss of his life as he knew it. But amid the trials and toil, he found God and the hope of redemption in Christ, the Good Shepherd. In his own words, from his memoir, The Confession of St. Patrick:
“Tending flocks was my daily work, and I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more—and faith grew and the Spirt was roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again, even while I remained in the woods or on the mountain. I would wake and pray before daybreak—through snow, frost, rain—nor was there any sluggishness in me (such as I experience nowadays) because the Spirit within me was ardent.”
One day in a dream, Patrick was directed by God to escape and meet a ship that would carry him back to Britain. As “luck” would have it, the port was 200 miles away, but step-by-step, he made it not only to the ship but back to his homeland. There, having undergone the fullness of conversion in the hills and valleys of Ireland, he studied for the priesthood and then heeded God’s call to return to the land of his captivity as a missionary preacher.
As a disciple of Christ among warlords and Druids, he was often pursued by pagans who were hostile to his message and who sought to kill him and his followers. St. Patrick did the only thing he knew how to do in the midst of trials and toil. He prayed. (Remember those hundreds of prayers he prayed each day as a shepherd?) In fact, he composed one of the most famous and oft-quoted prayers/blessings in Christianity, a battle hymn of sorts which is known as the Lorica (or The Breastplate of St. Patrick, for “lorica” itself means breastplate).
It goes, in part:
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 in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man 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.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.
May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.
My Christian imagination likes to think that St. Patrick first inscribed these words on his heart in a perilous and lonely wilderness as he tended his flock, a prodigal son who, through adversity, found his way home—not just to Roman Britain, but to God. Step-by-step, as he searched for his redeeming ship, he found the Redeemer himself, who walked every inch of those 200 miles with him, before him, behind him, in him, beneath him, above him, on his right, on his left, in breadth, in length, in height….
Will Christ do anything less for you and for me as modern shepherds (and/or modern disciples) who are counting not on luck but on the protection, goodness, mercy, strength, wisdom and power of God to walk with us step-by-step as we tend our flocks (or our families or our other responsibilities) as best as we can, trusting He is Lord over all?
Indeed, may the “luck of the Irish be with you” on St. Patrick's Day. ☘️ (Please God, may it be with us during our first lambing!) But let's also say—every day—with St. Patrick:
"May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us!"