An object lesson for St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a time to commemorate the former slave who escaped his masters, only to come back later to bring Christianity to the whole nation of Ireland.  By extension, it is a time to honor all missionaries.

St. Patrick, who lived in the 400s A.D., the time of the early church, was impressive for lots of reasons.  He is the author of the remarkable meditation/poem/hymn St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  It includes these lines, calling on Christ to be present with him in every dimension of his life:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Applying so many prepositions to Christ reminds me of an object lesson that a Danish pastor offered at the conference I spoke at recently. [Read more…]

An Irish girl tells the story of St. Patrick

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Leap Year

The earth takes 365 1/4 days to go around the sun.  So for our calendars to reflect the seasons of the year, we account for that quarter day by adding a day to the calendar every four years.  And since we stick it on to the shortest month of the year, that day is today!

You could complain that you have to work an extra day this month without any extra pay.  Or you could be glad that you are getting an extra day of rent free.  But you should look at February 29 as a bonus, the gift of a day.

I want to give special congratulations to those of you born on February 29 and so only have a birthday, technically, every four years.  (How do you celebrate your birthday otherwise?  On February 28 or March 1?  Do any of you Leap Year babies just wait to celebrate every four years?)

I remember as a kid reading the comic strip Little Orphan Annie.  There had been lots of jokes about how the strip had been running for 44 years, though its heroine was still a young girl.  Then its creator Harold Gray said that Annie was born on Leap Year, so that after four decades, she was only 11.  (As the strip went on, up to Gray’s death in 1968, he reportedly aged her one year for every four years that passed.  The strip carried on with other writers and an ageless Annie until 2010.)

According to the folk tradition in many countries, women may propose to men during a leap year.  In some versions, the man has to accept, and if he doesn’t, he has to pay a fine of giving the woman a present.  In some cultures, women may propose marriage to a man any time during the year.  In others, it has to be on “Leap Day”; that is, February 29.  Some of you may want to take advantage of this.

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day.  Would you say that this holiday has lost something?  Has the presidency lost its grandeur, even its respect?

Presidents Day was a mash-up of the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but that plural (not possessive) honors them all.  Most of our presidents, beyond those great two, were far from paragons.  But as we contemplate the current presidential election and the candidates we have to choose from, do you find the prospects for that office rather depressing?

Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) says that we have defined the presidency down.  He gives some choice and rather funny characterizations of four of the contenders, which I quote after the jump.  But his analysis of why our standards have sunk so low is thought-provoking.  I’ll try to summarize it. [Read more…]

A fine video on “What Is Lent?”

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Why we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day

The influence of Christianity on our civilization is such that even secular-seeming holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day derive, if indirectly, from the church.  St. Valentine’s Day is a curious one, a celebration of romantic love.  I think this is a good thing to celebrate, but why do we do it, and what’s the connection with St. Valentine?

St. Valentine was a martyr for the faith, giving his life for his Christian convictions during the Roman persecutions.  (I hope someone is recording the names of the martyrs who are giving their lives for their Christian convictions during the current Islamic persecutions.  We should put their names on the Christian calendar too.)

But why is St. Valentine associated with romantic love?  You will hear stories that he secretly presided over weddings for Roman soldiers, despite the Emperor’s forbidding of marriage.  And that he gave a message–some say, shaped like a heart–to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “your Valentine.”  You might hear other accounts of why he became the patron saint of lovers.

But those stories are late additions to the saint’s legend.  They were added after St. Valentine’s Day was already associated with love, the first time being in the 1380s.

I have an alternative explanation. [Read more…]