The Pluck of the Irish
St. Patrick’s Day was this week. As I am of Irish extraction, I thought it appropriate to address the occasion. I will deal with the light and airy things first.
In America, St. Patrick’s Day is really an American holiday about Ireland. Schoolchildren wear green (and pinch the negligent with pliers), adults drink beer, lots of people go to parades, and they dye a river green in Chicago. Rainbows terminate in pots of gold, leprechauns give wishes if you can catch them, and shamrocks give good luck. Although everyone in the world is supposed to count as Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is still likely reticent to rush passport orders on that day. Nevertheless, it is a big holiday for partying in America.
St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo go hand in hand for American appreciation of international holidays: if they are drinking, we can too–and we can dress up and wear funny hats! Perhaps Americans do not celebrate holidays from religions that do not permit drinking. Although I appreciate the occasional drink, beer is an accessory rather than a generator of jollification.
Whether you appreciate the religious significance of St. Patrick’s Day is not important in America; indeed, as far as I can tell, only Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopal Christians celebrate the day as a religous holiday. Nevertheless, the man behind the day represents a very important element of proper Christianity, which is self-sacrificial love for an enemy or opressor.
According to St. Wiki, Patrick lived in the 300-400s AD, and was the son of Roman Britons affiliated with the Church. Irish raiders captured him and took him off to Ireland as a slave, where he worked for six years as a shepherd. During this time, he prayed and grew in love for God. One night, God told him in a dream that he had an opportunity to escape and return to his family. Patrick followed up on the dream and returned to Britain, where he joined the Church and received a thorough religious education.
One night, he had a dream of a man named Victoricus who was carrying letters, and he had one for Patrick. It was entitled “The Voice of the Irish” and it said, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Patrick had a Hibernian Call experience, where a man from Ireland said, “Come over and help us!” Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary (much to his family’s chagrin), and through his ministry came the eventual evangelization of Ireland.
The bottom line is that he went back to work among the people who took him off as a slave. He did not go with an army, he did not go in on a gunboat, and he did not go with tricks and gimmicks. He did not get rich from his work, as he risked his life by refusing gifts from kings he met, refused payment for ordinations and baptisms, and he returned gifts given to him by wealthy women. Refusing gifts from kings took him outside the protection of clan affiliation, refusing payment for religious services meant that his vocation did not support him, and returning gifts from wealthy individuals protected him from obligation towards them. Patrick, in a manner of speaking, was a saint, although I am sure that some charges may be leveled against him.
Patrick was an agent of culture change. Whether you approve of his aims or not, I urge you to consider that he went not to force conversion with a sword but to preach and persuade in a land where he was once kept as a slave and had no connections whatsoever. He did not have foreign funds backing him up, he did not come from a country with cultural ties to Ireland, and he did not even have the benefit of a secular consulate to check on him if he was put in prison.
Yes, Christians want to preach to the whole world. They fund efforts to put the Bible into every language spoken on earth. When explorers find isolated tribes in the jungle, there are those Christians who pick up everything and go to tell them about Jesus. Christianity is what is termed a “missionary religion.” When they come to you, you should have the opportunity to kill them–that is, if they are doing their jobs correctly. (You will have to use your own initiative to find the proper time and place.) No money, food, medicine, education, or any other good thing will be leveraged against you to achieve your conversion.
Christians are not better than everyone else, and those who represent them may not be representative of the ones you know. They may believe that there is no neutral between good and evil, but they should believe that they live in a good world and that you are a necessary part of it.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.