St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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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.  

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I went back to Mass last spring ten weeks after all the churches in my state shuttered in response to the COVID-19 virus. I went back to Mass to break the Lenten-become-Easter fast. Pews were blocked off with tape, creating “no-man’s lands” and “safe zones.” The few of us who gathered in the “safe zones” wore masks and did not touch one another. The holy water fonts were empty. There was no singing, no sign of peace shared among us, no cup offered to us at communion. The priest preached briefly, quietly, and well. He reflected on the early Church controversy regarding Gentile converts: Must they both believe in the resurrected Christ and obey the Jewish laws? He said, “The question before the early Church was, ‘Is Christ sufficient?’ And it is the question before us in this time of disease and quarantine, ‘Is Christ sufficient?’”  

I am writing this reflection in the summer of 2020. COVID-19 continues to sicken and kill. I want a breastplate for sure, something forged of steel and coated with virucide.  

St. Patrick offers me his own breastplate, but it is not the one of my fearful longing. For what the saint offers is no fierce metal, but the pierced, breached flesh of the crucified Christ— Christ only, Christ alone, Christ with me, within me, behind me, before me, beside me.  

I sympathize with the early Christians, and all of us, who want to bring the familiar into the unknown, the armored into the exposed. Because I want a breastplate that speaks of what we have long known: barricades. Barricades guard, ward off, and close in. But the breastplate of St. Patrick opens outward, like arms spread, hands open, fists unclenched. This breastplate is a shield—but it protects me, not from my foes, but from the coldness of my own heart. This breastplate is a shelter—but it is a shelter, not from the world, but for the world, a shelter where Christ can be born into the world. This breastplate is offered me, not forced upon me. So the question before me is, “Do I want it? Will I receive it? Take it as my own?”  

In quiet, in danger, before the stranger, is Christ sufficient?  

© Liturgical Press.

Melissa Musick Nussbaum

Melissa Musick Nussbaum is a religious educator, speaker, and the author of numerous books, most recently The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life. Visit her website,

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