In this seasonal reflection, John Anglin, OFM, a member of the Province’s Ministry of the Word, examines various aspects of the March 17 holiday. The author writes extensively through his blog The Wandering Friar.
As an Irish-American Catholic who grew up in Boston, I have celebrated more than a few St. Paddy’s Days. At home, my Dad would play Irish music on the hi-fi with LP’s (remember them?), and my Mom prepared corned beef and cabbage dinner (never a favorite with me). There was always an ample supply of Irish soda bread. I learned early on that Patrick was the apostle to Ireland, the one who converted the Irish to Christianity, and that his feast day was cause for celebration, both for our Catholic faith and for our Irish heritage.
The parish of my youth, St. William’s, in the Dorchester section of Boston, had a marching band, as did many parishes in those days. We were the champions and had an honored place in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston. On two occasions, we went to New York and marched in that tremendous parade.
Enjoying Hope of Spring
St. Patrick’s wonderful feast day came in the middle of Lent and at the onset of spring. Because it came in the middle of Lent, Cardinal Richard Cushing, then archbishop of Boston, would provide a dispensation from Lenten fast and abstinence so that plenty of feasting could go on. The fact that St. Patrick’s Day came on the brink of springtime gave us hope for warmer weather and new life, a hope enhanced by “the wearin’ of the green.”
As the years have gone on, there have been annual celebrations in honor of St. Paddy in towns where I have been stationed as well as in our friaries. One friar at St. Anthony’s Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla., where I live, who always makes sure that we mark a number of feasts, puts out green hats for all and has the recreation and dining areas of the house decked out in shamrocks, leprechauns and green tablecloths.
As much as I have always enjoyed the wonderful festivities, I have also questioned what really lies behind it all. I have been told that in Ireland itself St. Patrick’s Day is more of a true holy day than a big bash, although I am sure that that aspect is not lacking among the Irish. I have asked, “Why make such a big thing out of this feast compared to what other ethnic groups do for their patrons?”
I recently came across some information that answered that question.
Standing Against Oppression
While Patrick was always devoutly celebrated amongst the Irish on March 17, it seems that during the Cromwell years in the 1600s when an Irish rebellion was crushed there was “push back” amongst the Irish. Fr. Luke Wadding, a Franciscan, petitioned the Vatican to make it an official feast on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. It also became a holy day of obligation in Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day then became not only a religious and liturgical feast, but also a symbol of resistance to oppression by the British. My purpose in mentioning this is not to resurrect British and Irish hostilities but to point out that faith calls us to stand against oppression. Though Patrick was not a martyr and lived long before the tensions between the British and Irish, there is a similarity between why the Irish so passionately celebrate this feast and the joy in El Salvador and other Latin American countries over the coming beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
The festivities of March 17 then should challenge us to realize that there is a connection between faith and the pursuit of justice anywhere, anytime. May we Irish, and all Christians, always remember that.
— Fr. John, who marked 50 years as a Franciscan friar last year, is stationed at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The previous reflection, about listening during Lent, was written by George Corrigan, OFM.