This month the Church, and indeed much of the world celebrated St. Patrick, the Apostle to Ireland. His feast is kept in many ways by people, young and old. Many begin the day with Mass. That's how our family always started the holy day together. We all are aware of the marching and partying celebrating Irish heritage, and for some the Faith of our mothers and fathers. It can be a wild and crazy day in parts of the USA where Irish immigrants settled and took root. For our family it was always a holy day. We celebrated it in much the same way we kept Christmas Day, and with the fun that we kept Halloween. It was an important day for us, with family. Mass, music, parade, and feasting filled the entire day. My own daughter and I were talking this past St. Patrick's Day about our memories of returning, freezing cold, from the NYC parade to Grandma's house to walk into the steaming smells of cabbage and meat cooking, and the atmosphere of celebration! I was delighted she had that memory firmly implanted. All so very traditional.
Now as I approach 63 years of age, and all my family of origin is gone the day is bitter sweet for me. I miss them all terribly on the Feast of St. Patrick, yet I sense them ever close to me, and to their children and grandchildren. Yes, I have all the wonderful memories, and the remarkable foundation in the Faith my parents and grandparents were careful to give me. I surely have the music! My heart is filled to overflowing with a love of all they passed me, including an awareness more in my aging years than ever of my culture and heritage. I delight that the next generation carries the family tradition of hospitality too, opening the doors of their hearts and homes to so many friends and relatives, and to strangers! Great gifts all of that.
This year God gave me a very special and new gift. He introduced me more intimately to my patron, Patrick! That seems odd, even to me, that at this late date I should feel I have a new relationship with the saint I chose as my patron for Confirmation 51 years ago! Oh, that was a story! My mother wanted me to take the name Mary, as she had for her Confirmation. We already shared a patron in Catherine of Siena, which we took very seriously! Taking Mary would have made me a true "Jr" and made my mother very happy. But I was 12 years old and very headstrong. I'd recently read an old biography of St. Patrick by Quentin Reynolds, and given our strong ethnic ties, I decided I wanted Patrick as my friend and patron. My first experience in standing my ground for my faith! Or at least that's how I felt then, and saw it for years. When, many years later, my daughter Rose Catherine took Patricia for her own Confirmation name, I was so pleased, but immediately realized how happy I could have made my own mother by taking her name back then... Oh we learn and process life's lessons slowly, and often learn from our children.
Well, I took Patricia, and felt close to Patrick, but as the years passed I never deepened the friendship. Our relationship never matured past the 12 year old's sentimental choice to claim her Irish patron. Until this year! This year, only by chance timing in my personal studies, did I come across the writing of Rev. Thomas O'Loughlin, as I read two of his books: JOURNEYS ON THE EDGE, and CELTIC THEOLOGY. Both of them, by the way, are excellent studies in both Celtic theology and spirituality. He has affected me with his words, and very personally. I felt I learned more about the Patrick tradition than I ever did before in my life, and it seemed to kindle a real fire in my heart to want to know this person, Patrick, and not just leave celebrating him to one day a year in some superficial way. I now want to know him.
So, I returned to Patrick's own writing, his CONFESSIONS, and to his LETTER TO CORATICUS, and went on then to make a personal retreat with himself using a tiny book by Timothy Joyce, O.S.B. called A RETREAT WITH PATRICK, DISCOVERING GOD IN ALL. It is really a very simple book intended not as a study but for reflection, mediation, and for prayer. Some of it touched me deeply and personally, especially the reality of a 15 year old boy being gagged and taken captive, and held in slavery for 6 years! It hit me like a ton of bricks how this saint, this ancient saint really could relate to human suffering, both personal and social suffering. He knew what it was not to have freedom, to suffer loneliness and grief over the loss of his family, whom he missed terribly. He knew deprivation as he lived in the outdoor guarding sheep night and day. I found myself feeling suddenly aware that Patrick, my patron for so many years, truly did know me, understand me and the various stages and certainly the major struggles of my life, both painful and confusing, and those later times when I sensed God leading me very clearly in a direction away from what I ever expected, particularly from the expected roles the Church had for me and for women. He had walked that walk too, when his ecclesiastical peers were opposed to his decision to minister to the barbarians on the edge of the world, rather than remain in a comfortable episcopal see and use his power in other more traditional ways. He heard the call of those in need spiritually, and the call of the Holy Spirit to respond. I knew instantly that Patrick "got me" and what makes me tick! And I was finally "getting him."
I felt stunned by the sudden awareness that this saint, whom I'd asked to protect and guide me 51 years ago had indeed done so, with no acknowledgement or thanks from me. He'd been a faithful friend, while I was rather indifferent and forgetful of him. I felt sad and a bit ashamed of myself, and simply said, as Augustine had long ago, "Late have I loved thee." Yet I really sensed a love of this good mad stirring up, a fire starting--that bit of flame one feels when recognizing a deep friendship. So, these few weeks I've delved more deeply into learning more about him, reading and studying more from learned scholars, and I can't seem to get enough. I am recognizing that Patrick has been, and, now obviously to me, is traveling with me, guiding me on my approach to Iona of the heart, to my place of resurrection, to my home with God.
Patrick and Co. are for me a group of several saints to whom and with whom I pray daily for my own spiritual walk, and for all those I love, particularly my husband and our daughter, and for our family, for the members of my religious community, the OMC, our Celtic Christian Church, and for our two popes, Benedict and this new wonderful Francis.
Late have I loved thee, Patrick. Thank you for waiting for me, quietly,
like a guardian angel by my side all along. I expect good times ahead
for us, and for the saints with whom I am graced to travel in my own
spiritual life. The bitter in the bitter-sweet experience of St. Patrick's Day has lessened tremendously for me, now as I age and near Iona of the heart, closer and closer each day.