A scene from the St. Patrick's Day parade in Montreal parade in 2007. Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose, Wikipedia

Editorial: God bless the Irish

  • March 17, 2022

In his homily drawing from the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus, on the Second Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis issued a call to communion, and a reminder of the meaning of the communion of the saints.

As Hannah Brockhaus reported in the National Catholic Register, Francis used the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Sts. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer from Madrid to urge members of religious orders, and by extension all Catholics, to exemplify on Earth the unity that we will experience in Heaven.

“Let us never tire of asking for the strength to form and foster communion, to be a leaven of fraternity for the Church and for the world,” the Holy Father said.

His timing was remarkable, and not just because the world is perilously close to a point of spiritual exhaustion after two enervating years of global pestilence and now the advent of martial madness in Ukraine. Francis’ March 12 roll call for the five saints canonized in the mid-17th century might, after all, have included an honourable mention for the beloved Irish saint, whose feast day typically kicks off a worldly celebration days before and after its nominal March 17 date.

Sadly, not even St. Patrick, venerated chaser of snakes, could prevail against the pandemic. But with COVID on the wane, the floats, the marching bands, and no doubt the ludicrous green stove pipe hats on the heads of 45-degree angle drunks, are marking the coming of spring abundance once more.

Rectitudinarians tend to tilt their Pecksniffian snoots at what they decry as the debasement of a religious occasion to a streetscape whoop-up. In doing so, they miss the perfect point of Patrick.

The reality is St. Patrick — assuming he is who we think he was and not some version of his own predecessor in Ireland, Palladius — was very much a leaven of fraternity for the Church and the world. Slave, shepherd, escapee, evangelizer, yes. But the true brilliance of the “Apostle to Ireland” lay in his gift for shape-shifting old pagan ways into a new-born island of Christian faith on the western edge of the “known” world.

Thomas Cahill writes in his good-natured How the Irish Saved Civilization that, “The key to Patrick’s confidence… is in his reliance on the ‘Creator of the Creation’ …. This magical world, though full of adventure and surprise, is no longer full of dread. Christ has trodden all pathways before us, and at every crossroads and by every tree, the Word of God speaks out.”

The Word of God being spoken seeded the post-Patrick monastic tradition that flourishes with the peregrinatio  — white martyrdom — of Irish monks who made their way across Europe evangelizing, educating, celebrating Christ by the leaven of fraternity for the Church and the world.

Precisely because as Catholics we believe in the communion of saints, we also never tire of saying “God Bless the Irish.”

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