As a rule, I don’t expect St. Patrick’s Day to be a source of many blessings in my life. For the most part, I find it a tad tiresome – all the green and the blarney. (Can you guess that there are virtually no Irish genes in my bloodline?)
But St. Patrick’s Day 2014 is turning out to be a bit different, it would appear.
Even before the day began, my spirit had been roiled a bit by a true tale of recent Irish indignities. I’d had a chance to view The Magdalene Sisters (as well as the documentary that had inspired it) over the weekend. To put it mildly, the films expose a rather ugly dimension of the Church in Ireland – and they left me ashamed and sad. It’s not a good feeling to be connected, even remotely, to such institutional sin. Certainly, it’s nothing worth toasting with a mug of green beer.
Things started to turn for me a bit though, when I read Robert Ellsberg’s feature on St. Patrick in my daily devotional today. I don’t know if I’d ever heard this before, but according to Ellsberg, the patron saint of Ireland had himself been a slave in that country in the early 400s – much like the young Irish women who, many centuries later, toiled as indentured servants in the Magdalene Laundries to ‘atone’ for their sins.
Remarkably, though, the saint wasn’t embittered by his ordeal: He was transformed by it – coming to believe that ‘his sufferings and deliverance had been ordained for some purpose,’ as Ellsberg puts it. ‘In 432, by now a bishop, he returned to the land of his oppressors to devote himself to their salvation.’
Having been blessed by that story, my Irish blessing became complete…when, a few pages later in the devotional, I read an essay on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes.
‘Forgiving is love’s toughest work,’ he wrote, ‘and love’s biggest risk…Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love’s power to break nature’s rule.’
It IS tough work, to love…and especially to forgive. But the life of St. Patrick proves that all things are possible when we cling to Christ…and the redemptive grace He offers. So perhaps St. Paddy’s example can give us something a bit more nourishing than corned beef and cabbage to chew on, as we celebrate his holy legacy today.
Let us pause now…to remember that we are in the presence of the Holy One.