Dear St. Patrick,
This weekend, all over the world, those of Irish ancestry will purport to celebrate you. Confident as I am that, as St. Paul said, ‘we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,’ I feel certain that you yearly witness (with humor) the rivers dyed green, the way ‘everyone is Irish’ on St. Patricks’ Day, the parties, marches and commemorative events. I like to think that you are touched by the ongoing use of the shamrock to illustrate the trinitarian nature of God. I am certain you are moved (and a little embarrassed) at the way you are revered by those who understood your ministry, mission and passion for our Lord. Saints typically think they shouldn’t be, and I suspect you are no different.
However, I also assume that you annually witness the remarkable and reckless use of alcohol, the promiscuous behavior, the fights, arrests and other various and sundry examples of debauchery committed in your name. Although I have no authority over any of this, and I don’t by any means think I have a right to stand in judgment over anyone, I must say that I offer my apologies from our enlightened and endarkened modern age in which so many celebrate you and so few have any idea what you did.
My DNA testing, and what I know of my family history, suggests that I have a bit of Irish in my chromosomes. (Although not as much as my Irish beauty wife.) Thinking about this, and about the march of the ages, I wonder if maybe one of my many ancestors received the Gospel from you, as you went from a place of relative safety back to the land where you had once been a slave. It may be that yo delivered my very family (or part of it) from an eons long dark tradition of capricious and cruel gods, and from centuries of cruel blood-feuds, raids, slavery and butchery and into the light of the Redeemer. Thank you for that!
And thank you for the example you set. Even now, composing this, I see you. I imagine you hearing, in a dream, the voices of another group of lost souls. It’s easy to see how important it was for you to go to old-school pagans and preach. How very modern of me to think so! And to simultaneously forget that you went to old Ireland in love to offer hope, not in anger to offer condemnation. That you went to offer deliverance not embarrass or punish.
And that if anything our modern idolatries, our modern paganism, our murders and rapes, our slavery and violence, our greed, addiction and abuse is even less excusable than that of the past, for we have spent centuries bathed in the light of Christ whether we liked it or not. And yet, for all that, you would have us love and minister and preach and call others out of their lives of pain and trouble, out of the fear of death into the hope of life.
And now I come round. Dear Patrick, you would be in all these cities as they celebrate you the next few days! In Boston, Chicago, Savannah and New York, in Dublin and in London, in Sydney and Montserrat. You’d be preaching to those who would hear (and those who pretended not to, but listened). You would love even as you told them to flee from sin. You would feed the hungry and encourage the drunk to sober up. You would bind up the wounds from fights and lead men and women away from using one another and into caring for one another.
You would do this as your Master did. For Jesus was your model and sends us all into the whirling, violent, drunken chaos of this world, holy day, holiday or average day.
May we all be missionaries wherever we go. And may we never forgot the courage of a freed slave who returned to those who abused him, and then led them to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, dear blessed St. Patrick.
And keep us safe from those painted green this weekend.