Editor’s Note: This article was originally slated for publication yesterday but was inadvertently omitted from the op-ed lineup.
It is not just because a son-in-law is Irish that I remember St. Patrick’s Day, in honor of the Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop who bloomed Christian civilization in Ireland’s Gaeltachts. Tales narrate that a 16-year-old son of a deacon and grandson of a priest was abducted and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. As a shepherd, he found “God” who instructed him to flee back home. Patrick did and became a priest; he returned to evangelize the island, earning the distinction of Ireland’s foremost saint.
The Methodist Church that grew me up, though descended from the Anglican Communion that recognizes St. Patrick’s Day as one of its feast days, was more Protestant with the same habit as the disputation-nailing Lutherans than the purple-garbed ritual-familiar bro-sistern of the Episcopal branch of the Union.
Today in America, though more Irish than Catholic, the greens go for La Fheile Pádraig who somehow leads a resiliency among the Irish in diaspora, not the least in the international football field in Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, and the United States where they seem to excel.
The remembrance of Patrick actually came to me last “Friday the 13th” when one of my non-theist Chinese guests who knew of my Christian upbringing reminded me that it was Black Friday when the night before in the Gospel story, Jesus held the last supper in the upper room where there were 13 around the table. Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code popularized the phrase though the mention of “Friday the 13th” came about only after a novel of the same title became a bestseller in the 19th century.
I remembered the abducted Patrick and the Irish commemorate not only the arrival of Christianity in Ireland but also the celebration of the culture and heritage of the island west of Britain. The ceilithe, a social gathering of folk music and dancing keeps the hearth food-filled; public parades and festivals are common as the cold of winter is replaced by the green shoots of spring. The wearing of green or shamrocks prevails. The Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day, giving red faces to many greens in the pubs!
Triune thinking is deep in the Pauline tradition, and with Ireland’s custom of triune deities, Patrick conveniently used the three leaves of the Shamrock to name the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of Christendom and he had no problems explaining the Trinity to the pagan Irish.
In the 1600s, Irish Catholic confederation used the green harp flag and “the wearing of the green” with the shamrock that became the color and symbol of St. Patrick’s Day. An Anglo-Irish Chivalric Order of St. Patrick was established in late 1700s and adopted “blue” as its color, but Irish nationalism exploded in rebellion against England and “green” became the color of both Catholics and Protestants and secular Ireland’s hue.
While St. Patrick is the day’s religious focus in mainline Christendom, it is the green that is our solemn secular concern. The green of the Earth is fading as the rains devastate the slopes, the floods ravage the ravines, and the droughts dry up the plains. The “blue” Earth no longer describes the color of an orb in the skies, as it is a statement of its internal mood; ze ails in silent wail over the climate change!
We are caught in our petty political quarrels. With the U.S. supposedly leading humanity’s advanced experiment on democracy, we are witnessing instead a polarization that is real, focused on warring individuals, and ironically attributed to the first black President elected by the nation, by no means lacking in intelligence, good sense, and congeniality. Threatened white conservative America shudders at a new dispensation of extreme diversity that has come to overwhelm the privileged class, and the center is appearing weak and indecisive to hold up the stress and strain.
If we focus on the greening of the planet rather than on our addiction to green bucks, we stand a chance. America’s democracy can lead a global pact but we find faults in an awakened and ascendant China, dawdle in fearful trepidation at the prospect of a first female president of the nation, and grovel in our self-sustained anxieties. The funds we pour in order to destroy are considerably more than the efforts we expend to preserve and to conserve the waning health of Mama Gaia.
Some look for miracles on St. Patrick’s Day. On Earth, the option to be green, for persons, political parties, and the planet is the only one we’ve got, or else the Paddy’s sign of the cross is raised over our dead bodies in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost! The good news is that no one is coming to bail us out. We are it. Rise up and live!