Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's about St. Patrick, not green beer

In my childhood home, St. Patrick's Day did not resemble the unfortunate drunken revelry we see on our TV screens every March 17. It wasn't about drinking too much or dying all our food green (although my mother did bake one batch of green cupcakes for dessert every year). It was about celebrating our ancestry and our faith.

I'm half-Irish (and half-Italian), and St. Patrick's Day was a time to be proud of our Irish heritage. Sure, we had the requisite "Kiss me, I'm Irish" buttons for fun, but we also had Irish music playing in the background and Irish soda bread baking in the oven. Our party was a dinner party, with corned beef and cabbage and boiled carrots and potatoes. Yes, an American-Irish meal, for sure, but that was our identity.

So on this Feast of St. Patrick -- and growing up in the New York Archdiocese, this day was always raised to the level of true "feast" -- I wanted to share a little history about the saint of the day. Here's an excerpt from my new book, The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass, which includes a section on the saints, of course.

From page 136 of the Essential Guide:
Despite what's often popularly assumed, St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was not born on the Emerald Isle. He was born in 385 in an unknown location, possibly Wales. He was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery at 16. During six years of slavery, he went through a religious transformation. He escaped to Europe, studied the faith, and became a bishop and missionary, returning to Ireland to bring Christianity to the pagans. He eventually brought about the conversion of the entire Irish people.

Legend has it he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. His feast day is March 17. He is the patron saint of Ireland and engineers and is invoked against snakes due to the legend that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

From St. Patrick's Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ before me,
Christ be after me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in the hearts of all who love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Erin go bragh.

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