I’ve been asked by many people, “Seeing as you’re Irish, how do you celebrate St Patrick’s Day?” My answer is simple: by living out his message and charism of sharing the Gospel and the Christian message through all-too Christian means, namely through the peace of Christ. I am proud to say that my people, the Irish, were one of the few peoples to be converted to Christianity without any bloodshed, without any violence. Unlike many of our friends throughout the world, the model of Christianity that stuck wasn’t one of “You must change everything about your lives because they don’t fit with our model!” Rather, Patrick came in and found ways to spread the Christian message using Irish words, using the Irish way of thinking, so that the message was crystal clear to us Irish Gaels. After all, we were one of a few peoples in the western world to not be conquered by Rome. And this uniqueness, this difference, sadly was ultimately the downfall for the church that Patrick established in Ireland.
In 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council, about 50 years after the papal-approved invasion of Ireland by the Normans (one reason why there hasn’t been an English pope since), the Church officially brought the Celtic Rite into the Roman Rite, thus making Ireland, Wales, and Scotland become Roman Catholic. The Celtic Rite was in a sense like the Eastern Rites of the Church today, like the Ukrainian Catholic Rite or the Byzantine Catholic Rite. We were Catholics, just not of the same tradition. In the Celtic Church, priests could marry, and women had greater roles of responsibility, even being priests and bishops, like St Brigid. All this changed, and has remained the same since.
However, I do wonder what it would be like if we had more of the old pre-Roman traditions in Irish Catholicism today. Of course, some of these are still evident, like the fact that the head of the Church in Ireland is still the Archbishop of Armagh, the Primate of All-Ireland. Today, more so than in Patrick’s day, the Irish diaspora is massive. I am one of about 45 million members of the Irish diaspora in the United States, and there are millions more in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, on the European Continent, in England, Wales, and Scotland, throughout Asia, Africa, and South America. As the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said in his St Patrick’s Day message, “To our Irish diaspora around the world, I thank you for not having lost touch, and for always keeping faith. The next generation will be thankful for your everyday patriotism.”
That really is the key, 17 March is a day to celebrate the heritage of the millions around the world, who like me share a common bond with that small island country in the North Atlantic. But it is also a religious holy day for us, as we remember and honour the saint, the apostle, who came back to give our ancestors a second chance, and in so doing to share that Paschal Flame of Christianity to our people, the Irish people, all approximately 80 million of us around the world.
So, on this St Patrick’s Day, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh.
Go ráidh míle mhaith agibh! Thank you!