Lent Reflection 5 -an ounce of faith & green

It’s almost St. Patrick’s day, the day we are to remember and celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland. Most years, March 17th is a day where I call my parents and subtly harass my father.

“Are you wearing something green today? Well then, what are you doing to celebrate St. Patrick?”

This inevitably causes him to recognize the ruse, prompting him to ramble on with feigned (?) grumblings about the overstated fame of St. Patrick and do we really need a national holiday and why doesn’t everyone go to the bars at nine in the morning to celebrate a St. Stanislaus Day?

This year I come armed. I’ve been learning some Irish history for my “seasonal” reading, taking in an entire two books on the topic.

In the past, I did learn the basics on Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland. He was murdered around 1080, literally at the hands of the king of Poland, for repeatedly calling him out on unjust wars, negligence, and immoral acts against his own people. Stanislaus life and death may be good to remember and dwell on, especially in these times. Who knows exactly how far his influence reached and continues to effect the course of history?

But while the life of Stanislaus was largely isolated to eastern Europe, we have the life and times of Patrick, who lived in the year ~400. Born into wealth and an identity both Roman and British, he would later sacrifice these to live in poverty for thirty or more years while traveling through a harsh third world country full of Celtic barbarians.

You could say these were relatively isolated western European events until you learn that this work was critical, and barely in time, for the people of Ireland to form their own identity, become somewhat literate and Catholic and highly value the Scriptures. When the rest of Europe was burning and reshuffling after the fall of Rome, western Christianity and much of the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans only survived the middle ages by (sometimes literally) clinging to the hidden away rocks and caves of the Irish countryside. From what I understand, Patrick’s founding work, leading to the Irish Monastic Scribes who were determined to make copies of all they could get their hands on, would nearly single-handedly “save” western civilization.

I suppose dad has to admit that all Americans have the right to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Okay, shamrocks to help explain the divine mystery of God three-in-one Holy Trinity. But the green beer and milkshakes, leprechauns and pointy hats? Of course legends will continue to flourish. I would not at all be surprised if, in a few hundred years, the legend of Jebediah Springfield driving all the snakes out of Springfield will be crossed and confused with St. Patrick’s day. For years, many hardcore Simpsons fans have celebrated May 10th as Snake Whackin’ Day.

Isaiah 55:8-9 is often quoted or partially misquoted, sometimes flippantly and often without much context, to provide some kind of answer in the midst of loss, hardship, or suffering.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

From my current perspective, sitting in at least some degree of constant discomfort and uncertainty, I do find comfort in this. Sure, I will freely admit that I accept and meditate on these ancient words based on faith. But having some basic knowledge of historical lessons, like the loss and suffering of St. Patrick for something exponentially greater, also helps (at least for me).

-The loss and suffering associated with destruction of Solomon’s temple around 600 BCE was immense. But the scattering of the Hebrews and gradual accommodation into the Greek speaking Mediterranean world would cause the Old Testament to be more valued and translated into Greek before the time of Jesus (and later the apostles) message to the gentiles (all people). “The Way” would not have been prepared without the gentiles having the Scriptures in their language.

-The life and especially martyrdom of all the apostles against terrible odds; The life and death of St. Patrick, the first human being in the history of the world known to publicly speak out against slavery; The transformation of Dietrich Bonhoeffers anti-Jewish -theology- into strong, far reaching anti-Nazism -action- that would cost him his life. And the examples of many MANY others through the ages.

-The reformation to provide the needed reform and long-term checks and balances to the numerous mishandlings of the “one Holy Catholic and apostolic church.” It would be the worst thing ever and then essential to the life of the church and original message of Jesus.

-In the founding of the United States, the process “…by which there would be no established church, but all would be equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of their conscience.” Most churchy Americans of the day knew this was the worst thing ever. The newly formed nation would quickly go to hell in a handbasket. Only, it didn’t. This “anti establishment” directly resulted in the flourishing that is now known as the First Great Awakening.

-Those who knew “Gods Word” but did not understand it in spirit used the Bible in their arguments to keep slavery. Abolition of slavery would clearly be to the destruction of both church and state. Unfortunately we’re still dealing with this 150 years later. The only real hope for understanding, reconciliation and mutual respect may be those who know Scripture in word and in spirit. At this point I’m truly doubtful that we can somehow legislate away the real mess much less the pissing wars so readily encouraged by the left and right media.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

    his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed tell their story—

-Psalm 107

These examples come to mind at the moment while thinking historically, with so much I do not know or understand. Don’t you ever wonder if redemption of all pain and suffering, misunderstandings and corruption is a real thing, or just a nice Sunday school idea? I mean, I still don’t even know if I really prefer to shave with an electric or stick razor, much less these type of weighty and often unanswerable questions. I’m definitely dealing with quite a mess of my own right now. It’s not like any of us are some kind of tortured martyrs. But the affliction does often cause me to hope and pray there is -and will be- some type of greater good coming from this life.

Of course we’re all going through some degree of pain and uncertainty, if not now, then in the past or future. Of this I’m certain. May HOPE in the love of God be our unstoppable force coming against those immovable objects. And may our life testimony be a great light given off in that collision.

“It is possible to be brave – to expect every day…to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved, whatever may come my way, and yet be a man of peace and at peace, a man without desire to harm, a man in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away.”

-St. Patrick, quoted by Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization

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