Unfortunately, instead of remembering and celebrating the life of the 5th Century Catholic Bishop, called the Apostle of Ireland for almost single-handedly helping convert the nation to Christianity, the day is more commonly known for parades, shamrocks (the symbol he is believed to have used to explain the Holy Trinity), green clothing (gotta wear green or get pinched), leprechauns (Irish folklore), and green beer, lots and lots of beer. An old Irish saying states, “In heaven there is no beer… That’s why we drink ours here!”
Therefore, St. Patrick's Day, like Cinco de Mayo, is infamously known for partying and reveling, especially in the United States.
In fact, the day of the patron saint of Ireland, is one of the biggest days for alcohol consumption in the U.S. and one of the busiest days of the year for bars and restaurants. And, you thought Fat Tuesday was the last day to party until Easter.
It seems almost every restaurant and bar has St. Patty's Day decorations, food and drink specials and activities.
One of my favorite “establishments,” Duffy's Tavern in West Miami, sets up tents outdoors to handle the overflow of patrons tonight and another restaurant/bar nearby, John Martin's Irish Pub in Coral Gables, hosts a yearly bash that includes street closures and a U2 cover band (which is appropriate considering that many of their lyrics have Christian undertones).
This year, since St. Patrick’s Day lands on a Thursday, it coincides with my men’s group’s weekly meeting, as we prepare for an upcoming retreat. Following our meetings, we usually go to Duffy’s to get a quick bite and share in some male bonding. However, yesterday, as we were getting ready for work, my wife asks, “You are not going to Duffy’s after your meeting this week, right?” Was that a question or a suggestion? In any effect, we probably will skip out on our regular routine to avoid the crowd.
But, for the benefit of those who will be going out tonight, let's remember why the Irish have been celebrating the day for over a thousand years.
Although many legends have surfaced about St. Patrick over the years. According to the saints own Confessions, which is one of his writings authenticated by scholars, he was actually born in Scotland, and considered himself a Roman-Briton. At the age of sixteen, he was captured along with some of his father's workers and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. He was kept in deplorable conditions in captivity for about six years, where he experienced many hardships, including hunger.
During that time, he turned to God. After many months of prayer and fasting, he felt the Lord telling him to return home. He continued growing spiritually, through continuous prayer and focusing on God. Finally, one day, Patrick was able to escape and fled to the coast, where he found sailors willing to take him back to Britain.
St. Patrick writes that after returning home, he had a dream where he heard the voices of Irish children, including in their mothers' wombs' calling out to him to rescue them. He became a priest and later ordained Bishop of Auxerre by St. Germanus, who was his mentor for many years, before being sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.
St. Patrick spent about 30 years going to one end of the country to another, preaching, converting, baptizing, and ordaining priests along the way. Although, he met resistance, and there are stories of his life being threatened, he successfully converted the country's pagan nobility and their families, which served as an impetus to spread Christianity to the masses. He also laid the groundwork for hundreds of monasteries, schools and churches that later spread throughout Ireland. He died on March 17, 461.
The Irish started observing this day as a religious holiday several centuries later. On St. Patrick's Day, families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Because the feast day is during Lent, restrictions on the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage (the post effect of the alcohol and cabbage must not have been pretty!).
The tradition was brought to the United States before the Revolutionary War. And the first St. Patrick's Day Parade was held in Boston, then in New York and other U.S. cities before becoming a tradition in Ireland.
So, before taking that first sip tonight, think about St. Patrick and ask him to help convert your heart as he helped convert Ireland.
And, remember, although not known for the same type of celebration, St. Joseph’s Day is on Saturday…
For more information on St. Patrick, check out this article by Deacon Fournier of Catholic on Line.