Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

Feast of Saint Patrick
Patron of Ireland, Nigeria, and the American Catholic dioceses of Boston, MA; Burlington, VT; Fort Worth, TX; Harrisburg, PA; Norwich, CT; Portland, ME; Sacramento, CA; and New York, NY
Also patron of engineers and excluded people; invoked against snakes and snake bites

Today's Word:
Daniel 3:25-43 (The prayer of Azariah/Meshach in the fiery furnace)
Psalm 25:4-9 (Remember your mercies, O Lord)
Matthew 18:21-35 (You must forgive others 'not seven times, but seventy-seven times' or 'seventy times seven times')

In short, you must be willing to forgive. Infinitely. Enough said.

Today's the day when virtually everyone is Irish. Even those you know aren't Irish celebrate today. In the large Irish-American enclaves, parades take place. In Chicago, there are two parades; the Chicago River gets a dye job; and the center pavement stripe on either State Street or Michigan Avenue is painted green. Or at least it used to.

And it strikes me as odd that one of this country's most well known Catholic universities has a French name (Notre Dame) but whose athletic teams are called 'The Fighting Irish.'

I have a feeling the real Irish folks are having to forgive us Americans for tromping all over their patron saint's feast day.

Because March 17 always falls during Lent, the Catholic Church at large more or less ignores it. Even on the Emerald Isle, the 'celebration' doesn't get the same hype as it does here in the USA.

A few things to note about Patrick. I assume you know he's actually British or possibly Welsh, born late in the 4th Century. His father was a Roman official and a deacon (yes, blame us guys with the water balloons).

At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by Celtic raiders and spent six years as a slave swineherd on an Irish farm, where he learned the Irish language, until he escaped to Europe. There he studied theology and was sent by Pope Celestine I back to Ireland to teach the natives about Christianity.

He landed at Wicklow in 432 and soon established religious communities and churches, despite the relentless opposition of the established religion of the pagan Druids - a religion that in succeeding centuries was fiercely suppressed.

Showing great courage, Patrick even preached the Gospel to the High King of Tara, and eventually the faith which he had brought to the Emerald Isle won over almost completely, as is evidenced even today. (Of course, there were many other Christian proselytisers who did the work besides Patrick, as well as many potentates and preachers who felt it their duty to destroy the indigenous religions.)

Patrick’s life story, as it has been passed down over the centuries, is delightfully replete with miraculous events and adventures. As every schoolchild knows, it was he who was responsible for the fact that there are no snakes or similar vermin in Ireland even yet. Of course, that sort of creature does not survive in the ecosystem of the country, any more than they would in northern Illinois or New Jersey. The snakes were symbolic of the pagan Druids.

Now Christianity, as well as Ireland, owes a big 'thank you' to Patrick. For awhile there it seemed that most American Catholic priests were of Irish descent; and three of the five largest Catholic populations (New York, Boston, and Chicago) have provided more of their share of young men and women to the priesthood and religious life.

Legend holds that Patrick used the shamrock, the three-leaved clover, to explain the Trinity to the High King of Tara. Over time, many of the high figures in Celtic mythology became saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the traditions we associate with Halloween also come from Celtic tradition and have become either Christianized or secularized (read 'commercialized') over time.

That corned beef sandwich? Better found at a Jewish or Polish delicatessen. Or as my Irish-American cousin-in-law says, the link between corned beef and cabbage to Irish tradition is that "it's boiled meat and vegetables."

What makes this such a big day to everyone, then?

The actual beginning of spring, the vernal equinox, can fall over a three-day period between March 20-22. The weather for the most part starts cooperating early enough and in some places the grass is even green enough again. Yes, St. Patrick's day is close enough and is easy enough to remember; and we're so fed up with winter that it might as well be spring. Here in America, March 17 is about the imminence of springtime as much as it is about the life of a man who is ultimately responsible for a blending of two spiritual paths and spreading it elsewhere in the world. It's a party without nearly as many frills; but you can still send cards and decorate if you so choose.

Before anyone else starts attacking their keyboards, this isn't the first time that such a blending of traditions took place among Western religions. The Greek influence over most of the ancient world (from roughly 323 BCE to 146 BCE, arguably as late as 30 BCE), called the Hellenistic civilization, brought one big concept to the Jewish culture of that time and since.

It got many believing in life after death.

The resurrection.

That's one thing that had many of Jesus' contemporaries puzzled. Evidence of belief in an afterlife goes back to the paleolithic era. However, this was a relatively new thing to the Jewish scholars of the time, and not everybody bought into the concept. The Pharisees believed in it, but the Sadducees did not. So on top of Roman occupation, the Jews of Jesus' time were divided. Yet Jesus was preaching about eternal life in no uncertain terms. Not only was life after death possible, it was real; and He was going to turn the world upside down proving it.

No comments:

Post a Comment