My family came to Canada from Ireland in 1846, so you would think I would be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today. But I’m not.
Our Irish sojourn was a short one, 1843-1846, so I don’t really qualify as Irish. Also, as Protestants, Presbyterians in fact, I don’t think my ancestors would approve of my taking part in a holiday celebrating a Roman Catholic saint.
Or perhaps they would. Patrick wasn’t a Roman Catholic after all, something that might surprise some of my friends who assume that anyone elevated to sainthood by the Roman church must have been Roman Catholic.
In the fifth century, when Patrick served as a Christian missionary to Ireland, there was no distinction between Catholic and Protestant. There wouldn’t be for a thousand years. Either you were a Christian or you weren’t. (And if you are a church historian and want to take issue with that statement, I understand. I’m speaking in generalities because I don’t think anyone wants this to become a book-length exposition on Christian history.)
I won’t go into details as to why my family moved to Ireland just about as the Great Potato Famine began. I’d like to, but I don’t know them, no-one thought to write down a family history at that time, and there is no-one left who remembers 1843 (I checked). I assume they came to Canada because there was no food in Ireland.
My understanding is the holiday is much more restrained in Ireland than it is in North America. It is actually a religious holiday. Here it seems to be an excuse to put food coloring in beer and drink to excess. Kind of a strange way to commemorate a Christian missionary when you think of it.
Therefore no green beer for me today, and certainly no drinking to excess. When I think about it though, maybe I will celebrate the day in my own way.
I’m going to spend some time thinking about Patrick and those like him, people called by God to bring the Good News (that’s what the word “gospel” actually means) to those who hadn’t heard it yet.
I’ll also be thinking about the men and women today who are the heirs of St. Patrick, who answer the call to take the liberating word of the gospel of Jesus Christ into some of the darkest corners of the globe. We don’t think about them enough.
The idea of going to other lands as missionaries is not politically correct in our post-modern, post-Christian culture. In our society the Christian message is dismissed or ignored because it demands more commitment than most people are willing to make.
That may explain why our only holiday dedicated to a missionary has degenerated into a flow of green beer. That is not really what it is all about, but like Easter being overrun by bunnies, it is a safer thought for those avoiding God.