Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saint Patrick's Day

I would like to take a momentary break from the Church Fathers to observe that today is Saint Patrick’s Day. As everyone surely knows, Patrick is the patron saint of the Irish. Saint Patrick and Ireland are nearly inseparable - who can think of one without the other? However, this Fifth Century bishop and missionary to Ireland was actually Scottish!

Patrick was born near Dumbarton in Scotland around the year 387. He was captured by Irish plunderers when he was sixteen and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He spent six years as a captive in Ireland, tending his master’s sheep. (Ironically, he would later return as Bishop of Ireland and tend THE Master’s sheep.)

Patrick escaped slavery and fled back to his homeland. But his heart remained with the people of Ireland and he wished to return there to convert them from their pagan religion. After ordination to the priesthood under the tutelage of Saint Germain, and after several years battling heresy with that great saint, Patrick received his assignment from Pope Celestine I to preach to the Irish people and bring them the Gospel message. And the rest is history, as they say…

What makes this story so utterly “catholic” to me, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word “catholic” (that is, “universal”), is that, while he is so loved by the Irish and is claimed by them as one of their own, Patrick was not a native-born Irishman. He is an adopted son. Without a doubt, Saint Patrick has been so thoroughly adopted by Ireland that one would be hard pressed to convince any Irishman today that Patrick is anything but Irish. To insist to a native Irishman that Patrick was NOT Irish might very well earn you a black eye (depending on the quantity of green beer consumed on that day).

The reason I call this “catholic” is the simple fact that we are all “adopted” into the Catholic faith and so become something we were once not. Just as Saint Patrick can truly be called an Irishman (and we all become Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day), so too we all become son’s and daughters of Christ through baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. The call is “universal” – it is meant for all peoples of all times and places – it is in that sense “catholic.” The great Scotsman, Saint Patrick, is as much a child of God as he is an Irishman.

So Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…whether you are Irish or not.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

(Traditional Irish Blessing – attributed by some to Saint Patrick)

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