Just before this week’s wintry winds cooled our early spring weather, I felt a damp chill seeping into my heart. Even though we had finally celebrated the glory of Easter, and despite the longer days and surging blossoms, I was somber and apprehensive.
Maybe it was the anxious waiting for a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who on Tuesday was convicted of murdering George Floyd. Maybe it was the police-related shooting of a teenaged Ma’Khia Bryant mere minutes before the Chauvin verdict was announced. Or maybe it was the death of Daunte Wright during an April 11 traffic stop some 10 miles from the courtroom where Chauvin’s fate would be decided.
Meanwhile, every evening brought news of more shootings in Philadelphia — a young man here, another there, and at least 55 children either injured or killed since January.
“The police cordoned off Maria’s block the other night while they processed the crime scene,” a friend told me. “At least none of the bullets hit her house.”
So far we’ve had 154 homicides in the city, 31% more than in 2020, with 108 fatal and 447 nonfatal shooting victims. By the time you read this, those numbers will likely have increased.
And we’re not even halfway through the year.
At the same time, the world continues to grapple with COVID, which has infected well over 144 million and killed more than 3 million. Nations are at odds over vaccine supplies, with the poor bearing the brunt of global greed and inequity. As I write this, hospitals in Delhi are running out of oxygen, and more than 99% of the Indian capital’s intensive care beds are full.
Division ravages our nation, our communities and our churches — indeed, our very beings, as gender ideology seeks to divorce body and soul, creating a seemingly infinite series of “gender options,” among them “androgyne,” “neutrois,” “pangender” and “two-spirit.” Seven years ago, ABC News identified 58 such choices available for Facebook profiles. I’m sure the social media giant is offering a few more nowadays.
Amid this heartache and confusion, I (and probably half the planet) have found myself wanting to find a quiet corner and hide until the world settles down. But an Irish saint recently offered me a bracing rebuke, and a challenge to take heart.
Flipping through my breviary, I came across a St. Patrick prayer card that included his famous “Lorica,” also known as the “Breastplate” or “The Deer’s Cry.” In Irish, the prayer is referred to as the “Fáeth Fíada,” translated as “The Guardsman’s Cry,” and scholars are fairly certain Patrick did indeed compose the text, apparently to protect himself and several monks from being attacked by an angry king’s troops. After Patrick sang the hymn, he and his companions were miraculously concealed from their pursuers as a herd of wild deer, and so evaded harm.
Originally a term for a piece of armor that protected the upper body, “lorica” came to signify a type of medieval Celtic Christian poetry, one recited in time of danger by first calling upon the triune God, as Patrick did:
I buckle on today,
A mighty strength, invocation of the Trinity —
Belief in the Threeness,
Confession of Oneness,
(on my way) to meet the Creator.
Like the Psalms of David, the Irish bishop’s words were born of long and painful experience. In his Confession, Patrick describes how, as an enslaved shepherd boy far from his British home, he “was strengthened” by drawing close to God amid hardship: “Every day I had to tend sheep … and many times a day I prayed … the love of God and his fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.”
Nothing prevented Patrick from that sacred communion with the divine: “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. … I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, for there was no sloth in me — as I now see, because the Spirit within me was then fervent.”
Inspired by St. Paul (Rom 8:26), Patrick could say that his prayer was truly centered in the Lord: “Again I saw him praying in me. … He spoke saying that he was the Spirit.”
How naturally, then, the Lorica’s best-known phrases must have flowed from Patrick’s lips:
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.
Protected by what St. Paul described as “the armor of God” (Eph 6:11,13), Patrick saw a troubled world not through eyes dimmed by despair, but with a gaze of hope, confident that “the true Sun, Christ … will never perish, nor will he who does his will, but he will abide forever as Christ abides forever” (Confession).
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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