Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A St. Patrick Most Revelers Don't Know

Day 29 of 46 c Lenten Season 2010

Have you ever eaten Irish nachos? Yummm... they’re so good, and so drenched with fats and salt that a doctor explicitly told a friend of mine to stop eating them.

Local dive restaurant J. Gilligan’s here in Arlington, Texas invented Irish nachos, and has even been featured on a cable travel show with the delicacy. You take thick slices of potatoes, fry them just a bit, then smother them with cheddar cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, bacon bits, and diced onions.

My friend’s doctor was right, wasn’t he?

I bring up the specialty of the house at J. Gilligan’s because today is St. Patrick’s Day, when this and all other Irish-themed restaurants throw beer-fueled bashes and anybody can be Irish until midnight. The city actually closes down streets around J. Gilligan’s so the crowds can dance on them. People come from all over Fort Worth and Dallas to participate.

Last Saturday, Dallas threw its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade down the older, quaint part of it’s bar-lined Greenville Avenue. In actually, it’s less parade and more beerfest, although sponsors keep saying it’s a family-friendly event. Not that drinking beer is a sin, but negligent parenting can be.

Granted, there’s more to St. Patrick’s Day than drinking beer… but not much. If you were to tell green-clad revelers who the day’s patron saint really was, they’d probably wonder about the connection between him and why they can barely remember the day’s date.

I’ve wondered that, too.

Would the Real Saint Patrick Please Stand Up?

Catholics call him the patron saint of Ireland, but St. Patrick has never been officially canonized. He wasn’t even Irish, but Scottish. Catholics like to say that Patrick introduced the Irish to Christianity, but in actually, Palladius brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle a few years before Patrick first arrived. And contrary to popular mythology, no snakes ever existed in Ireland for Patrick to banish.

Although born into privilege, he became a slave while still a teenager. Scholars estimate it took him 15 years to graduate from divinity school. He professed to having visions and visitations, which today many Catholics and most evangelicals would find disconcerting. Indeed, his certainly was not the normal path to the pastorate, but not the background of a wallflower, either. In his proclamation of the Gospel, in his compassion for his adopted homeland, and in his personal convictions, Patrick displayed resolute fervency. For whatever hype has flourished around the legend of St. Patrick, to him goes the undisputed credit for helping establish Christianity in Ireland.

He used Ireland's ubiquitous three-leaf clover to help explain the concept of the Trinity. During his captivity, he spent virtually six years solid in prayer. His writings invoke dark imagery from the Celtic witchcraft and symbolism that haunted his Irish flock. Patrick took the pagan superstition of the sun as the origin of power and applied it to the crucifix, creating what we know today as the Celtic cross.

His earnest devotion to his faith permeates his writings. Consider this excerpt from his “Confession:”

”But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.” (# 62)

If You're Partying, Shouldn't the Celebration Fit the Honoree?

As a man of his day, his personal habits were undoubtedly different than ours, and the Irish have never been known for throwing a dull party. Yet for all that he is known today, most of which has been proven false, but much of which remains deeply theological and unfashionably pious, Patrick would probably quake with horror if he could see how most people celebrate his memory.

One town in Ireland celebrates with a bawdy parade between their two pubs. The very superstitions Patrick sought to contradict with the clover have returned in the four-leaf variety. Raucous debauchery characterizes most parties Irish-themed restaurants throw on March 17, the anniversary of Patrick’s death. About the only dignity in honor of the occasion is – yes, I’ve got to get my New York reference in here somehow! – the grand Irish parade down Fifth Avenue.

Not that a country as proud as Ireland and a people who’ve endured so much as the Irish don’t deserve their day in the international sun. So go ahead, wear green today, and if you think food coloring in beer is fun and harmless, don’t let me stop you.

Before you go out and party, though, maybe you should at least read a bit from Patrick and his “Breast-Plate” prayer:

“…I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd…

“…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 in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

“I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.”
(Excerpts from “The Breast-Plate of St. Patrick”)

Wouldn’t you think this sounds more like the way in which Patrick would like to be remembered?

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