St. Patrick: A Saint for Garment Justice

For St. Patrick’s Day, as they say, “Everyone is Irish.” We put on our green clothing, great cities have wondrous parades, and some among us may use the opportunity to drink to excess. Perhaps this March 17th we might recall another aspect of St. Patrick’s life.

Of the rough contours that most Catholics might recall of his life, most know that St. Patrick evangelized Ireland. Not through force or deception but through his living witness, Ireland became a deeply Catholic island. Some may even add in that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Hence, Irish descendants around the globe celebrate kinship with the missionary bishop.

Nonetheless, others also have a special connection with St. Patrick. Like more than 21 million people worldwide today, St. Patrick was a victim of human trafficking and slavery.

Born in Great Britain, at 16 years old, St. Patrick was captured by raiders and brought to what is now considered to be the County of Antrim in Northern Ireland.  Sold into slavery, a chieftain forced Patrick into service as a shepherd. Patrick’s voice, that drew so many to the faith, was the voice of a trafficking victim. In his biography, Confession, we find this evocative phrase:

I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

Eventually, amid an escape and recapture and another escape, St. Patrick returned to his family. In thanksgiving, he studied for the priesthood. Embedded within St. Patrick’s biography is a story of grace, healing, and reconciliation. No longer a slave, he returned to Ireland, the place of his slavery, to evangelize. Based on the success of his evangelization, his return to Ireland was not as an accusation but forgiveness. He did not tell the old story of “goodies” and “baddies” or hero and victim. St. Patrick was a herald to a new story which was good news for his former oppressors.

Similarly, St. Patrick’s hopeful experience suggests not only that it is our task to liberate those enslaved in human trafficking, but that, indeed, those persons who have been trafficked can be a moment of conversion and a gift to us in the dominant culture.

I first encountered “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” in a television show about an inner-city parish, “Nothing Sacred.” No longer “bound” in slavery, St. Patrick freely chooses to “bind” himself to Christ. Watch this video clip and recall that the words come from a former slave.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

A special thanks to CRS, that recognized St. Patrick as a victim of human trafficking. I also recommend John Richmond’s post: St. Patrick’s Day: A View on Suffering & Slavery.