St. Patrick’s Day celebrates all things Irish. It is the day, when those of us who are Irish by culture and heritage are chuffed full of a pride that overflows into vibrant celebration. It is also a day when those who are not Irish brandish green and shamrock decorated hats and shirts, and for one day it seems that all the world is Irish. The overflowing joy of this celebration is contagious.
Yet, what do we know of this beloved saint? He wasn’t even Irish, but a 5th century British Roman. His first steps on Ireland’s shores were taken as he was an enslaved 16-year-old who would not taste freedom for six years. He escaped back to Britain. Then, through divine prompting in dreams, he reluctantly embraced the call to return to Ireland to preach and teach the Christian faith.
Legends tell us that while in Ireland, Patrick drove snakes out of Ireland, raised the dead, miraculously provided food for the hungry, and famously presented the Shamrock as a metaphor for the Trinity (3 leaves in one plant – 3 persons in one God). All this fervency for the faith, demonstrations of miraculous power, and wise engagement of natural symbols ultimately, as we have come to believe, resulted in the conversion of Ireland. What is remarkable to me, is that this vibrant and insightful witness to faith was done under the constant umbrella of potential martyrdom.
As one who has experience with sparks that ignite the “fightin’ Irish” in me, I can relate to the spiritual roots of stubborn persistence I find in the story and legends of St. Patrick. Even in the face of death, he did not back down. He returned to the land of his trauma and transformed it into a land focused on Christ. He showed up, spoke up, and risked all for his faith. Yet, there are times when we preach from safer pulpits, and have no connection to the true cost of discipleship. We mistake discomfort with lack of safety. We fail to speak up and rise up when we are facing the most minimal of costs to us personally. St. Patrick reminds us to not be afraid.
His example calls us to unshackle ourselves from our traumas, fears, and all that makes us fragile. He shows us that by trusting God and facing them, we can rise to be examples of Christ-centered faith and transform the world in our own way.
We can bring life where there is death, hope where there is despair, food where there is hunger. We can also find God in the simplest parts of the natural world. Through all of this, we witness to the resurrected Christ. We are able to eat, drink, and be merry, for we know that tomorrow we will never truly die. And so we pray:
Source of all hope and transformation,
we are your people.
As we follow the example of St. Patrick,
be with us as we continue to rise
from, through, and for the work of justice.
As we show up, let us lift up voices
too often silenced and unheard.
Send us your spirit of wisdom,
to guide our hearts and minds
to be open to Your words being spoken and heard.
Send us Your spirit of resistance and strength,
that we may speak Your Truth,
even when it is challenging and hard to hear.
Shatter our fragility, or
any reticence that could keep us from witnessing to truth
and receiving truth with open and discerning hearts.
May we rise up! Stand up! Speak out!
And when we are the ones with power,
and when necessary,
May we do this in the service
to the great rising of all those who are oppressed.
And as we seek justice, let us be just.
So that our children can someday
teach us the ease with which we can live
and without all that keeps us from being
a united family for each other.
We ask this in the name of the One who has Risen,
and the ones who rose
and resisted with Him throughout history.
Michael Way Skinner is a retired Coordinator of Religion, Family Life, and Equity with the York Catholic District School Board. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (1st Class Honours) degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. He also completed the Program in Religion and Secondary Education (P.R.S.E.) with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Michael was a contributing author to World Religions: A Canadian Catholic Perspective, and co-authored There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere with his wife, Christine Way Skinner. Michael is a public speaker and award-winning educator who is deeply committed to faith as a source for inclusion and justice.