Today, we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, the day on which a bishop who served Ireland for decades in the 5th century AD, supposedly died.
It’s interesting to think about his life, and his legacy, in light of what our world (and our country) are facing now. Every day, there are new headlines about how afraid we should be of immigrants and refugees. How much we should resist foreigners and strangers. How we should exact revenge on people who have threatened –or taken — our jobs, our opportunities, our rights.
Lots of people are drawing lines and spending an incredible amount of time, energy, angst and anger deciding who’s on which side.
There’s us and then there’s them. There’s American and then there’s non-American. There’s white and black. There’s gay and straight. There’s Christian and non-Christian. There’s male and female. There are people who are like us, and people who are, well, in lots of ways and for lots of reasons, different.
And then, today, we celebrate Saint Patrick. Though he’s strongly associated with Ireland, he actually wasn’t Irish. He was British, and he was captured by Irish pirates when he was a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave. It took him six years to escape.
And that’s where the story should end, right? Patrick’s successful escape from evil people who kidnapped him and held him captive for years. It would hardly be surprising if Patrick returned to his people like a hero returning from battle — marrying his high school sweetheart, building a home on a cliff overlooking the sea, fathering children and living happily ever after.
But that isn’t where the story ends. That isn’t how the narrative goes.
When Patrick returned to Britain, he underwent training to become a spiritual leader.
And then…he went back.
Um, yeah. He went back to the country where he’d been taken illegally. Back to the place that must have held some violent and terrifying memories for him. Back to the people who had enslaved him.
He went back to Ireland. Not to seek revenge or to gloat over his captors. He went back to minister to lost people who needed to be found. He went back to suffering people who needed to be healed. He went back to serve his enemies. He went back to love the people who had ruined his young life.
So today, sure, let’s have fun. Let’s wear green. Let’s drink shamrock shakes (or Guiness, if you’re so inclined.) Let’s listen to Dropkick Murphy’s. Let’s celebrate the immigrants who introduced us to this tradition.
But today, most of all, let’s remember what St. Patrick’s life really stood for. Let’s honor his life and follow his example by loving our enemies well.