St Patrick: Real and Imagined

Are you wearin’ the green today? If you are not, are you worried you may get pinched? Are you preparing the corned beef and cabbage, while looking over your shoulder at a four leaf clover?  

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and the gap between truth and fiction is quite wide. We’ll try to narrow that and give the greenlight to the truth as it’s Saint Patrick: Real and Imagined on this edition of “Becoming Today”.

Myth and the truth were often confused in my younger years. 

My knowledge of St Patrick and his holiday came from misinformation taught within the halls of public elementary schools. Now remember this was a time when you could talk about saints, religions, plus the differences in culture in school and the pledge we recited daily still included the phrase “indivisible under God”.

In those old iron and wood desks secured to the floor, still with long unused ink wells, each year we were faced forward with a “history” lesson that I later had to unlearn. 

Much of the “facts” we were coerced to memorize actually were the creation of advertising executives and beer companies. It was initially only in America that people celebrated by overindulging in massive amounts of green beer. Though to pander to tourists many pubs in Ireland later adopted the “tradition”. 

After all, who wouldn’t want to raise a pint to the man that drove the snakes out of Ireland? Which of course never happened. Scientists now say the Ice Age was responsible for that, though as our story unfolds, it appears to me Patrick did battle a few serpents in his time. 

But back to my misinformed youth. I think these items were more amplified because of where I was raised. On the South Side of Chicago…Back in the USA, back in the bad old days…, where there was a significant Irish population, we were taught then, it was second only to Dublin Ireland itself, and the culture was very much intertwined with daily life.

On the 17th of March each year, we were instructed not to go to school without wearing green. If you didn’t you would be pinched. Yes physically, groped and grabbed, by today’s interpretation I believe what some, especially the girls endured, qualifies under the law as at least third degree sexual assualt – unwanted touching. 

Then when we started to reach a certain age of development, the harassment intensified, as the chanting of “Erin Go Braugh” was altered by the boys. Now I remember the teachers telling us the expression meant ‘Happy St Patrick’s Day” in Irish. It doesn’t, more widely accepted as translated “Ireland Forever”, with hindsight it really was quite a political statement as back in the day the I R A and their battles against English rule were quite active and bloody. 

Something we knew even as children, because there were I R A recruiters and “fund raisers” in the neighborhood, many openly tied to organized criminal activities to finance their efforts.

Anyway back to the boys like the O’WIŚNIEWSKIs, O’Müllers and O’Balchunas, who when they began to notice we were endowed differently than they were, began their own terrorizing chant of ‘Erin- Go- Bra-less”.

So green it was each year for self protection and then you’d spend part of your instruction time, cutting shamrocks out of green construction paper, so you could write your family name, with an added o – apostrophe in front of it, because on St. Patrick’s Day everyone was Irish.  The only ones exempt from altering their identities were the Irish kids, who actually had names like O’Shaunessy, O’Connell and O’Brien. 

And perhaps the Daley’s. I’m sure I had classmates with that surname, but I don’t remember any O’Daleys. That‘s probably due to the fact that the “Boss” Mayor Daley was still leading the city, proud of his Irish roots coming from the neighborhood enclave of Bridgeport where the Irish ruled. Just ask the neighboring Italians… but those stories of segregated neighborhoods and passing as different ethnicities on different streets are for another day. 

Anyway in my youth as a person of mixed Bohemian, Scottish, British, hillbilly, Choctaw roots, in mid-March I was expected to be Irish. And the myths lived in my mind for a long time afterwards.

I now know, among the many other differences I’ve shared, that Patrick was not assigned that name at birth and he wasn’t even Irish.

Accepted as a saint in varying degrees by the Anglican, Catholic,  Eastern-Orthodox and Lutheran Churches, and noted as both the Patron Saint of and the founder of Christianity in Ireland Patrick, whose birth name was Maewyn Succat was actually British. Or possibly Scottish, maybe even Welch. But definitely not Irish.

Born late in the fourth century, researchers say he was raised by a Christian family, however believed himself early in life to be an atheist. 

At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved to work livestock.  He escaped his captors six years later and returned to his family, however he could not get the people of Ireland off his mind.

Not seeking recompense, retribution or vengeance, Maewyn in the English translation of his fifth century autobiography, Confessio of Patrick, writes of his capture and time in slavery:

“We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was. It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith.”

He continues with an explanation of why he understood he must return to Ireland, 

“That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.”

After his great escape, he began 15-years of study to deem himself worthy to preach the Gospel.

This came only after much self doubt in his lack of education and worthiness, when he had a dream.

In this nighttime vision, a being he identified as “Victoricus”, which does come from the root of victory as “having achieved a victory; conquering; triumphant”, delivers him a letter with a heading of “The Voice of the Irish”, urging him to again walk among them.

Feeling an overwhelming call of the Lord, he overcame his doubts, stepped out beyond his fears in faith and complied. His perceived shortcomings were something he did not keep secret as he shared in his memoir:

“Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.”

During his studies in a monastery in France he changed his name to reflect who he was “Becoming”. Maewyn chose from the Latin, Patricius, which meant “nobleman”.

Though he struggled with doubt, by the time Patricius set foot again on Irish soil, he quickly embraced an empowerment “Becoming” one fully dedicated and unafraid to do the work of the Lord. He traveled the country baptizing and confirming with what has been described as untiring zeal. 

The exact dates of his life are unknown, widely believed to have been in the early 5th century. By the seventh century myth and man were “becoming” intertwined. The legend of driving the snakes out of Ireland is firmly taking root as were claims of his resurrecting people.

Patrick himself did write of performing some actions, though does not give a number. By the 12th century it was widely reported that he raised 33 men from the dead, some who are said to have been buried for many years. 

So while he did not actually Pied Piper like banish snakes from the countryside, I suspect in bringing a pagan land that believed in plundering and enslaving people he undoubtedly encountered and battled some “serpents” along the way.

So earlier I mentioned four leaf clovers, which in my youth were mistakenly represented as symbols of Ireland. Another myth that has been busted is that shamrocks, which have three leaves, are the actual national flower of Ireland.

This ties in with difficult to substantiate legends of St Patrick that he used the plant to explain to the Celts, the concept of the Holy Trinity, by using the three-leaved plant with a single stem.  

The four leaf clover it turns out was a pagan symbol that was believed to ward off evil spirits. By 1911 an Iowa School Superintendent adopted the symbol to represent the future of agriculture in the United States. Each leaf stands for one of the four subcategories of 4-H’s mission “To make the best better” ( or I would say more “Becoming”), through “head, heart, hands and health”. 

Another interesting fact is that the color of today’s holiday has changed. We are wearing green to celebrate a man who’s time in Ireland was most associated with the color blue. As the Irish flag was then that hue. 

Celebrated as a strictly religious holiday from the 9th century, it was Irish emigrants to the U S who changed that making it more of a cultural celebration. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in Boston 1737, and since 1962 the Chicago River has been dyed green to mark the day. 

As we should all strive to do each day, I in preparing today’s discussion learned not only something new, but a couple of interesting facts.

Did you know that St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day for planting peas? Even if there is snow on the ground. Plus there’s more. 

The folks at the Old Farmer’s Almanac have planted images in my head as they say “Cabbage seeds are often planted today, too, and old-time farmers believed that to make them grow well, you needed to plant them while wearing your nightclothes!”.

Hmm.. maybe somewhere across the centuries, that’s what planted the “seed” for Corned Beef and Cabbage on your dinner plate today?

So man and myth separated, and thales of my misinformed youth shared, we are all now free to choose to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in our own way, or not.

It’s up to you.

For me I’ll skip the boiled beef this year, have you seen the prices!?!

I guess motivated by a long entrenched idea of self protection I am wearing green, but more importantly I’ll be meditating on the lessons that St Patrick brings to our shared path today.

We can overcome our doubts. Feelings of lack are just thoughts that need to be reframed, refocused and refined. We all have the potential to do more. The strength to persevere and fulfill our purposes and callings come from within. 

As the Scripture says, “I know what it means to lack, and I know what it means to experience overwhelming abundance. For I’m trained in the secret of overcoming all things, whether in fullness or in hunger. And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.

We are all gifted with the ability to always be “Becoming”.

St. Patrick, like we spoke of Queen Esther yesterday, was perhaps the right person for the time, lived with the integrity and characteristics of leadership we discussed Tuesday, and personifies the opposite of the so-called public servants we began our week examining. 

You too, can do these things and are possibly even created for more.

So how do you take your first step toward “Becoming” that”? 

With “that” being whatever you have imagined, dreamed or are personally be called to do? 

It’s really a simple step that we’ll talk about when you join us tomorrow on our next edition of “Becoming Today”.

Ohh… before I go, let me leave you with this thought. “They” said it would be over in two days, now we are at  the three-week mark in a still escalating war in the Ukraine. 

Yesterday Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the U S Congress electronically sharing his belief “Peace is more important than income.

While most of the speech was delivered via an interpreter, he did pause in English to say:

I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths.

As I asked of you at the onset of these evil events unfolding, I want to urge you to continue your prayers for those living through these atrocities. 

Including individuals despite fearing for their own lives due to the relentless bombings venturing out “to dump the bodies of children in a mass grave”. 

As witnessed and confirmed by the Associated Press, “local officials struggle to account for the dead,… many bodies crushed in the rubble can’t be counted because of the assault”.

Bodies are being left out in the streets with officials telling families to leave their dead loved ones outside where they have fallen “because it’s too dangerous to hold funerals”.

What The World Needs Now is truly prayer.


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