OK. So Sundays in Lent are not actually Lent. But since I’m behind already, and, well, it’s Sunday *and* St. Patrick’s Day… I’m working with what I have. Inspiration is tricky sometimes.
I think it will surprise no one that I’m a big fan when people celebrate he lives of the saints. I know lots of them, and by association, I mention lots of them here, too. That said, I don’t fool myself into believing that most people celebrate St. Patrick’s day because of life of the saint. Rather, they know the party it inspires. From the Shamrock Shakes to the Leafs wearing the throwback St. Pats jerseys, and from the green beer to the giant St. Patrick’s day parade in New York City, the phenomenon of St. Patrick’s Day is pervasive.
It may surprise you, then, that the man who would eventually become St. Patrick wasn’t even from Ireland, and his name wasn’t originally Patrick.
I know. Mind blown, right? I’ll wait for that to sink in. The most Irish of Saints (St. Brigid notwithstanding) wasn’t Irish.
Maewyn Succat was born in Wales, and was kidnapped and sold as a child slave in Ireland. That doesn’t sound like something we should be celebrating, but it gets better. He eventually escaped and became a priest, and eventually a bishop. The pope gave him the name Patercius (which means “Father of his people”). And then, bang, henceforth he was known as Padraig.
In Ireland, St. Patrick explained the Trinity using the shamrock, which eventually became the national flower of the Green Isle. His legend also says that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland. And to celebrate his effort, folks in North America wear green and think that they’re all the Lord of the Dance. That’s OK. Ghod likes it when we’re joyful.
So how do we go from a child sold as a slave to Kiss Me I’m Irish paraphernalia? That feels like a convoluted journey. I mean, as a student of folklore, I get that the oral nature of passing down traditions means that details are dropped or tweaked along the way. I know that before most people were literate, stories told on cold winter evenings around the family hearth, or told to children at bedtime or sung by bards in taverns, the teller changes details of the story to evolve it along the way.
So back to St. Paddy’s Day. There’s a drink called an Irish Car Bomb. Shot of Irish whiskey and Irish cream dropped into a half pint of Guinness. Maybe centering a celebration around a weapon that killed over 3500 people and injured thousands more in a war that lasted 30 years isn’t the best way to pay tribute to a whole nationality. Maybe that’s not the best way to tell the story.
This Lent, may I be aware of how information evolves as it is shared. This Lent, may I be aware of how I am participating in behaviour that might not be as respectful as I want it to be. This Lent may I keep it in context.
Also, this Lent may I be kind to literal snakes, and may I see clearly what figurative snakes I want to (or need to) chase out of my life.