This coming Tuesday, March 17ith, is St. Patrick’s Day. In the middle of the start of March Madness and usually within days of Easter, there comes this day, when most everyone seems to be Irish. Even though none of my names are Irish but rather either from England or Scotland, come this Tuesday, I am Irish for the day. And it is not for the fact that I write this column for a paper whose publisher is pure Irish, Pat Cavanaugh. We can learn so much from at least being Irish for one day.
Of course in many places there will be parades. The largest and granddaddy of them all will be in New York City. The first one was in 1762, while New York was still a colony. Not far behind will be the second largest parade in the nation in Savanah. This will be Savanah’s 191st parade. Yesterday saw the 113th St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Atlanta.
Green of course is the color for Ireland, the Emerald Isle. Some places will die a river or a fountain green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. And most of us will be wearing green this coming Thursday. Remember when we were kids and you could pinch anyone who didn’t wear green. I am not sure you can do that anymore, but I for one am wearing green. Some places will even serve green beer.
There are special dishes for the holiday as well. With St. Patrick’s Day come thoughts of corned beef and cabbage. Or you might choose a big bowl of Irish stew.
But I think the real reason this day is so special, is the life lessons we learn from the life of Patrick. Originally he was not Irish but was born in Britain. He was the grandson of a priest and the son of a public official who was deacon in the Church. Tradition says he was born somewhere between 385-389 C.E.
His life was turned upside down when he was a young teenager. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. For six years he was a shepherd of livestock.
Though the pain of being enslaved, and so far from home and family, there was an upside to this time in his life. He had time to think, to reflect, to pray as he spent many hours alone with the livestock under his watch. This is seen as a start on a spiritual journey that would lead to “Sainthood.”
After six years he escaped and made his way to a seaport. It was a very difficult journey, where at times he approached starvation. When he made it to the seaport, he talked himself aboard a boat headed back to Brittan. Legend says when he arrived home. He was 22 and a very changed person. He received training to become a priest in the church. He particularly studied the Latin Bible.
You would think the last place in the world he would want to serve would be the place that was the home of those who kidnapped and enslaved him. But he choose to return to Ireland. Tradition says he did this in the year 435. Patrick was the successor of the first bishop of Ireland, Palladiums’ He worked mostly in the north of Ireland. As a part of his mission, he founded a school. Spreading the faith and a love for education were the two major marks of the work he did.
Have you ever thought how our world would be so different if we reacted to those different than us the way Patrick did with the Irish? In our world so bitterly divided at times along national, religious, racial, and partisan lines, what would be the difference if we reached out and worked for the common good?
One tradition that has been told through the centuries is that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In fact there may have never been snakes in Ireland. The basis for this tradition may be when Patrick confronted the Druids and won. Snake symbols were a part of their pagan religion. Another tradition about this confrontation with the Druids was that Patrick would not wear armor. He said his “breastplate” was the presence of Christ in his life. There is a hymn based on this tradition.
Thomas Cahill wrote a book entitled, “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” He wrote that St. Patrick’s influence on the history of civilization began with his missionary work in Ireland.
He is given credit for instilling a sense of literacy and learning that led Ireland to become “the Isle of Saints and Scholars.” Through the monasteries that spread across Europe from the Church in Ireland, there was a preserving of Western culture. This preservation happened during the “Dark Ages” as Europe was being overrun by barbarians.
The greatness of this man makes it easy for all of us to desire to be Irish, at least for one day, March 17. The day is thought to be the anniversary of his death. “May your day be touched by a bit of Irish luck, brightened by the song in your heart, and warmed by the smiles of the people you love.”
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington