I’ve celebrated St Patrick’s Day all of my life. My people can’t help it. And by my people I mean Americans. I remember going with my grandmother to see the canal in Chicago dyed green for the momentous occasion, each of my siblings and I bear a name of Irish origin, and dutifully once a year on March 17th my mom makes corned beef and cabbage and we remember our heritage by drinking dark beer.
In later years this t-shirt has made an important yearly appearance.
Darren and I were watching my favorite TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” the other day. If you haven’t seen this show it has a massive cult following and is massively inappropriate so if you’re easily offended skip over the next bit. In the Episode “Charlie Catches a Leprechaun” the gang is deciding on their St Paddy’s day game plan.
Mac: No, Dennis, if we want to make money we need to honor ancient Irish traditions like serving an irresponsible amount of booze to people who are genetically predisposed to having alcohol problems.
Dee: Mmm, right.
Mac: You see St Patrick started that tradition and that’s why we celebrate him to this day.
Charlie: Yeah, No! That’s not what St Patrick did. He played the flute for some kids and lured them into a cave somewhere and he diddled them.
Frank: No you have him mixed up with the Pied Pipper, St Patrick didn’t play the flute he drove the kids out of Ireland.
Despite nearly four years of seminary I knew the difference between St Patrick and the Pied Pipper, but really I wasn’t much more educated than a group of sociopathic bar owners in South Philly. There were only two things I knew about St Patrick off the top of my head. 1) legend of his Trinitarian analogy with a clover and 2) he (allegedly) drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Beyond that, in seminary, he was essentially… ignored.
So who was this man who graciously gave us this day of green beer?
St Patrick of Ireland wrote two works that survived into modern-day. The first and probably most important is Confessio or Confession, this is the autobiography of his life and all the information we have about Patrick comes from this one (fairly short) document. It takes about 15 minutes to read here if you’re interested, otherwise I’ll sum it up.
St Patrick lived in Ireland during the 5th century. To give a little context, at this time in history Attila the Hun lived and died, the Mayan city of Chichen Itza was being built, and Nicene Creed had just been established about a hundred years earlier. Around the time Attila was wrecking havoc, Patrick was kidnapped from the British Isles and subsequently sold into slavery to an Irish farm. There he worked for six years, and during that time still managed to grow his relationship with God. As a young adult he heard the audible voice of God telling him to escape and go home. After many adventures Patrick did manage to make it back to his family. Later he became ordained and felt the calling to return to Ireland as a missionary. Eventually he became a Bishop.
Patrick has this incredible ability to point all fingers back to God. Everything bad that happens in his life is because God wanted something better for Patrick, and everything good that happens is because God wants Patrick to have good things. Nothing is left to chance and everything has a reason.
I, personally, think this is more of a reflection on Patrick’s ability to make lemonade out of lemons than it is on God’s goodness, but Patrick would probably disagree.
One part of the Confessio really sticks out to me. It’s the very first line (my emphasis added)
So I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall.
Our church has been talking a lot about the refugees lately. Actually, everyone has been talking about the refugees lately.
That’s not entirely true… everyone was talking about refugees, but now everybody is talking about Trump’s member.
The hottest fire first, people.
We all have opinions on refugees, strangers, and people entering illegally. This fear is not only understandable it’s evolutionary. We are supposed to mistrust strangers. In the days of cavemen if we did not distrust that which was strange we could die. Skin color was the easiest way to distinguish between us and them.
I like to think we’ve evolved past that.
But even if we haven’t… God expects us to act differently than our baser instincts.
Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34 “You shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “For the Lord your God loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the strangers, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Years ago I lived in Spain and went to a tiny little church in the basement of a convent. Occasionally the nuns would peek through the door curious about the crazy little protestants. Whenever I would receive communion the pastor was would say to me “KB you are a strange person in a strange land, know God and be comforted.”
I always thought those words referred to my redheaded, light-skinned, poor speaking skills self living in the outskirts of Madrid where the young men called me gordita and people took naps during the day. But now I wonder some if she wasn’t referring to my displacement from home but my status on earth.
Like St Patrick, we are all refugee’s working to build a life before we die and move onto our permanent residence. It’s the responsibility God imparted onto us to welcome people who don’t belong… because we don’t belong either… we belong in the world to come.
Jesus once said if the people didn’t shout the rocks and stones would.
If we don’t do the work of God, other people will. If those who follow the commandments of God, be that Yahweh or Allah or Jehovah don’t work for justice, mercy and love other people will. Spirituality can choose to advance and fight for all that is good… or God can use other people. People who believe in religion don’t have a monopoly on God. God will use anyone, anywhere to complete the Missio Dei.
I know most of us don’t have a chance to open our door to a refugee, but we do have a chance to buy a burger for a homeless person or vote for kind, compassionate leaders and demand they act in kind compassionate ways. Who knows depending on the outcome of the election maybe you’ll want to seek refugee status.
There are few things in life we get the chance to do right in this world, but to step outside of ourselves and help the stranger see God, as St Patrick did, is quite possibly one of the holiest.