Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Thoughts - St. Patrick, pray for us

Back in the summer of 2001, I had the great gift to be a part of a program initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the People to People Program. Its goal was and is to build relationships with countries by send young people from the United States as student ambassadors to witness to the country visited the desire to maintain relations with that country. From the student ambassador perspective it was to learn about and interact with people from another country in their country and so grow in an understanding about the universality of human relationships.

People to People gave me the opportunity to go back to the cultural roots of the United States. We travelled to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. We saw some beautiful sights. We met some great people. We lived in homes with regular English and Irish families. We grew as a community of teenagers.

I speak of this because I got to see, talk with, and learn about Ireland. Those who look at me would think that there might be Irish in me. My mother's father is of Irish descent from a family originating in County Down in the north of Ireland. You can tell from the way that family drinks despite being raised Southern Baptist. Spending time there in the country of my ancestors was almost surreal, even at 16. I spent two days living with an Irish family living forty miles outside of Dublin. The brogue of the mother of the family was so thick I had to get her children to translate. The crown of the trip though was visiting Glendalough Abbey.

photo by Eve Andersson
Founded by St. Kevin in the mid-sixth century. This was a place of prayer and asceticism for seven centuries before it was partially destroyed by a British invasion in 1398. It was my first encounter with a monastery and indeed it was in a sad state. An old simple church stood along with a large cemetery famous for its Celtic crosses. I remember being overly attached to a rosary I bought there that had clovers on each bead and a Celtic crucifix at its beginning.

Unfortunately, this monastery, at least for me, has become the image of the Church in Ireland. One can see the greatness that used to be there but what remains is mostly ruins and a few faithful standing strong with their bishops and priests.

The decline happened before then. In fact, Ireland is finally experiencing what Europe experienced a little over two hundred years ago. Once faithful group have turned to other things, in my opinion wealth. This opinion is based on my amateur study of history, but do not leave me just yet.

The Irish had a faith that withstood unbelievable persecution of the British since the time of Henry VIII. They dealt with oppression, violence, attempted genocide, and still trusted in the Lord Almighty, because he was their rock and their strength. Their witness to faith aided in the quick growth of the faith and its practices here in the US one hundred and sixty years, or so, ago. They brought with them the only three things they had, love of family, love of country, and love of God and His Church.

Some, tired of the oppression to the point of no return, fought violently for 500 years against the British government. You can find riddled throughout Ireland's history during that time small and large revolts. Then, southern Ireland gained independence in 1921 through the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Then, men and women continued to fight some to the point of idolizing freedom.

Then the Celtic Tiger occurred. From 1995 to 2007, Ireland moved from the one of the poorest nations in Europe to being one of the wealthiest nations in Europe. They experienced uncontrollable economic growth after centuries of poverty and near starvation. Only the most virtuous of the poor cannot dream and be attached to money that they do not have. When the poor become rich and quickly, money can cloud their prudence and displaced their faith.

On the heals of the economic downturn, that brought Ireland away from this prosperity was the extraordinary amounts of priest abuse reports that had, like many diocese in the US, been covered up. What faith still remained in those who had come into prosperity was lost. Their faith weakened by the Tiger experience, unbeknown to them.

Now, today is St. Patrick's Day. This holy man was the apostle to Ireland. He brought droves of Irish into the sacraments. He said in his Confession,

I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others. If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favour.
Even in death, does he want to give his life for the sanctification of this country. Let us implore him today to fulfill the desire and that promise made. We in the United States are indebted to the Irish through their descendants working to give some respect to the Catholic Church in this country, even if it is now lost again for different reasons. We are also indebted to the many sons of Ireland who came here as missionaries to serve in Catholic dioceses as priests.

Now, more than ever, is the time for the great conversion of Ireland, for us to call upon the powers of heaven to strip from the hearts of the Irish people the attachments to greed and pride and accept again, in fullness the faith of Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick, pray for us.

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