Few Catholic saints have been woven into the fabric of American culture like St. Patrick. In some ways, his importance and reasons for sainthood have been domesticated, but by remembering and rediscovering the hallmark saint we can aid the American project and stay true to what it means to celebrate his life every St. Patrick’s Day.
Way too often, the Catholic Church is viewed as out-of-touch for its fairy tales in the Bible or superstitious for its belief that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. However, it is society that has accepted false understandings of what it means to remember St. Patrick. Orthodoxy, and sanity for that matter, mean we stay rooted in the truth. Unveiling the facts about this tremendous man of history is important when considering what has become of his celebration.
With the influx of Irish immigrants over the centuries to the United States, it became common for celebrations to arise on St. Patrick’s feast day. Boston had its first parade in 1737, and New York City had its first parade in 1762. These were days filled with championing Irish culture and customs, and of course, having some nice beer.
Now, St. Patrick’s Day has become an excuse for Irish families, and many others, to light up their homes and buy shamrock paraphernalia. The month of March has become green across the nation (even though blue was the original color associated with St. Patrick). It has also become inebriated.
St. Patrick’s Day is now an excuse for drunkenness, where grown men and women start drinking at 11:00 a.m. as they did in college. We all know there has to be more to this day than having drinks and eating corned beef. So what is the reason for St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick was born in Britain in the late fourth century and was kidnapped at the age of 16 and enslaved in Ireland. Patrick’s slavery was real and his sufferings were intense. He was in a different country against his will, and he was all alone. In his trials, he turned to God.
“God watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son,” he writes in “The Confession of St. Patrick.”
He later escaped slavery, returned to Britain, and found himself back in Ireland to share the gospel. Through his preaching, witness, and life, he was responsible for creating schools, monasteries, and churches all over Ireland. The focus of his life was serving God and aiding others in seeing the importance of the person of Jesus Christ for their practical lives.
The parades and the green and the Guinness in celebration of this great man are all nice and good. However, what is most true to celebrate the life of Patrick was his faith and trust in God along with his desire to bring that truth to others. In a country that is continuing to become more anti-God, he stands out for his capacity to see God in the midst of trials. When we are tempted to think that all is lost, we need his words to remind us that when trials are real is when God is most near to us.
One of his most famous prayers conveys this:
“Christ 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 when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man 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.”
Prayer did something to him. The boy who was captured by slave traders and who felt alone in his captivity encountered the living God, and he had to share Him with the world. Particularly, he needed to share God with the very country that enslaved him. Patrick’s focus can aid the rundown Americans who might be led to despair because of our country’s leaders and the sad news that we hear each day. The solution is found in Patrick’s response: We must rely on something bigger than ourselves (God), and we must move to act in a way that builds up society rather than tears it down.
So for today’s celebration, let’s wear green and celebrate. Not so we have an excuse to party, but because we desire to applaud a heroic man of virtue who saw the big picture, kept God at the center, and lived for others.