Most people who celebrate on St. Patrick’s day today think of wearing green and enjoying good Irish music, Guinness and dancing at an Irish pub. Others who appreciate Patrick as a saint might think only of the myth about him freeing Ireland from snakes.
The green beer and Irish dancing celebrations are great fun. I enjoy the music and Guinness even if I’m not dancing in green.
But it’s easy to forget that Patrick was a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ who brought the Good News of the ultimate and eternal liberation through Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland.
The legend about Patrick freeing Ireland from snakes may not be true. But he certainly showed the people how to live freedom even in the midst of oppression.
When something is too much for us (either too bad or too generous) we often reduce it to what we can deal with easily. So we wear green, drink Guinness and go no further, forgetting what the beer and colour is helping us to remember.
We reduce the lives of the saints (as we do many truths of faith) to ideas that we then consider to be optional beliefs and which don’t require us to leave our comforts or to face our fears.
The same reduction has happened with many other saints.
We reduce the feast of St. Francis to pet day at school or animal farm at Church. Francis would be scandalised at the reduction. While Francis did have an encounter with the wolf in Gubbio, (it’s on Wikipedia so it must be true) his primary love was not the earth and the animals.
Francis loved God, and gave his life to serving God. This decision and his life of faith placed him in relationship with the poor, the lepers, the animals and all of creation.
To diminish the life of Francis by focussing on animals or on creation is the same tragic misunderstanding as reducing Patrick to beer and music.
And then there is Valentine. Valentine’s day has become a feast of secular romantic love. We know little about the life of this saint. Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century named Valentine among the saints “… whose names are justly reverenced among people, but whose acts are known only to God.” We do know that St. Valentine was a martyr. He gave his life for God. It is reasonable to assume that Valentine is a bit upset and seeing his sacrifice remembered only in anonymous gifts of chocolate and red roses.
The reduction of the lives of these saints is the pattern of a secular world where even the feast of the Incarnation of the one true and real God is more about the mythical Santa Claus. And the greatest feast of the passion and resurrection of our Saviour at Easter is reduced to hot cross buns and chocolate eggs.
Back to Patrick. On the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick, wear green, drink Guinness and rollick to the Irish music. But let’s also take a moment to remember that Patrick is a forefather in faith who taught us that all the colour of dancing, beer and good music cannot begin to match the joy of living with Jesus Christ, now and forever.
While this well-known prayer may not have been penned by Patrick, it has from the fifth century been known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You might like to spend a few moments of stillness with this beautiful prayer:
I arise today
through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to see before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me –
against snares of devils,
against temptations and vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me
ill, afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd…
Christ, be 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 where I lie,
Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone 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.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord,
be ever with us.
and set to music by the Estonian composer Arvo Part