The Feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph:
March 17th and March 19th are the respective feast days of two very powerful saints: St. Patrick and St. Joseph. What has always impressed me about the feast days of those saints is what they show about the tenacity of the people who celebrate those dates with abandon.
The tale of St. Patrick is widely known to Irish Christians. Patrick, a Roman Brit, became a slave at the hands of Irish pirates. After a daring escape, he became a priest and missionary to the very people who had enslaved him. He baptized the King of Munster, and the conversion of the Irish people began. In modern times, Patrick’s feast—reputedly the day of his death—is a religious and cultural event. The riotous feasting says much about the people Patrick came to save as it does about the saint himself. Like the Irish, Patrick was obviously a hardy soul. He survived slavery and then returned to the people who had enslaved him, offering them mercy and salvation. Like Patrick, the Irish have overcome much. They survived a devastating famine, still persevere in the midst of occupation, and fight for their rights even in the midst of oppression. The descendents of those older Celts stayed to fight the good fight or else set sail for other shores. They survived and prospered. Now, the modern Celts hold parades in honor of the man who symbolizes the importance of their heritage and faith.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the now prosperous descendents of the Celts catch cabbage, carrots, and onions at parades while wearing green beads and drinking Guinness beer. We women receive kisses and flowers from men wearing green bowler hats. Now, my father and mother lived during the Depression. If we did attend a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, we cooked the cabbage. Waste was sinful, according to my mother. Even more so to my father—and they were right. Cabbage and carrots rotting in the street is sinful and an insult to those poor Irish souls who died with lips died the color of grass--so starved because they only had grass to eat. Of course, many do cook the cabbage and carrots. Many also still attend Mass in honor of St. Patrick as well. Why? Well, he stands for the best of us—proud, tenacious, and faith-filled. Still, we like fun. Frivolity kept us from waddling in self-pity and misery. We showed our oppressors. We refused defeat even as we ate humble fare like cabbage and carrots. That food fills the soul as well as the stomach.
The patron saint of my church is St. Joseph. My mother loved no saint more. Like the Irish, the Italian people turned to St. Joseph in their desperation when famine struck their land. After interceding to St. Joseph, they received relief. Today, in memory and thanksgiving, churches and individuals host altars in the saint’s name. The food on the altar is then distributed to the poor. The faithful still write petitions seeking the saint’s favor, and young women take lemons from the altar, praying for marriage or pregnancy. St. Joseph, after all, is the patron of the family. Nevertheless, frivolity exists here as well. Italians and other celebrants also hold parades in the saint’s memory, throwing food and beads. Like the Irish, the Italians suffered through heartache, and phoenix-like, rose from the ashes.
Maybe such is the human spirit. We are a bizarre mixture of frivolity and mystical faith. Those qualities sustain us through the worst of times, renewing our spirits.