St. Patrick's Day: green beer, green cupcakes, green clothes; parades, corned beef, soda bread and shouts of "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" Hard to believe it used to be a holy day.
Even the Times Online's Faith Central blog doesn't mention anything religious until the seventh of its 10 tips to celebrate the day:
"St. Patrick's Day falls in Lent, when in the old days, abstaining from drink was a given. If you really want to be trad, go to Church. March 17 was originally a Holy Day in the Church calendar, marked by Mass-going in the morning, and a feast ... in the afternoon."
Jesuit Rev. James Martin on the Huffington Post calls for people to put the Saint Patrick back in St. Patrick's Day, telling the story of how Patrick was enslaved in Ireland from the age of 16 to 20, yet after he escaped and became a priest, still chose to return there to spread Christianity.
"In his 40 years in Ireland he attracted numerous followers, baptized thousands, and built churches -- for the people who had previously enslaved him. "I never had any reason," he wrote, "except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty."
For the Christian, Patrick poses an important question: would you be willing to serve a place where you had known heartache? And how much is the Gospel worth to you? For everyone, he offers a challenge: can you forgive the people who have wronged you? Could you even love them? Think about that over your green beer."
Many traditional Irish blessings mention, if not forgiveness, at least kindness to strangers: "May you always have a kind word for those you meet," ends one. "May your heart glow with warmth, like a turf fire that welcomes friends and strangers alike. May the light of the Lord shine from your eyes, like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler," implores another. Beliefnet lists eight Irish prayers, including that of St. Patrick.
Meanwhile, on the Emerald Isle itself, it is not a celebratory day for everyone. Cardinal Sean Brady used his St. Patrick's Day sermon to address the sex abuse scandal in Ireland in which 15,000 children are said to have been victimized over the course of six decades:
"I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago. I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart."
NPR reported today on the complicated relationship between the Church and the Irish people -- though nearly 3/4 think the abuse scandal was mishandled, Catholicism is deeply interwoven into cultural and civic life. Pope Benedict XVI says he will issue a letter on the subject.
Interesting article… now pour me another green beer! Happy St. Patrick's Day!