Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick. But as with Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, the secular aspects of these days almost completely overshadow the religious and spiritual origins.
All these centuries later, I still find Saint Patrick fascinating. What surprises me lately is how I find different aspects of his life fascinating at different points of my life. This year, I'm thinking about Saint Patrick and the harsh landscape that was Ireland when he lived there.
I spent part of last Saturday watching PBS travel shows with an Ireland theme. The countryside that was once so rugged and foreboding is now lush and green and well-travelled. But those ancient monks like Patrick, who carved out rich lives in Ireland and Scotland, faced significant hostility, from the people who lived there to the weather to the ground and the ocean. Ireland and Scotland must have felt like distant outposts, a tough exile. And yet, what they had to offer was exactly what was needed to keep the faith going.
Many of us may lately have a similar feeling, that we face hostile surroundings--especially in these times of fierce budget battles that are just beginning. I have lived in times of federal budgets that gut all that I hold dear--it's heartbreaking, but in these times, outsiders are needed more than others. The nation needs our brand of faith (in the arts, in feeding the poor and the homebound, in education, on and on I could go) now more than ever.
Instead of despairing and longing for the glory times, whenever they might have been, when our values and goals were a closer match to the larger society, perhaps we should think of ourselves as Celtic monks, trying to till a very rocky, thorny soil. We should take comfort and encouragement from how much can be accomplished, even in the most unlikely circumstances. There’s plenty of transformative work for us to do today.
The lives of the Celtic monks remind us that even in a distant exile, wondrous things can happen if we stay open to all of the possibilities. During our times of exile, it's good to remember that basic truth.