In a day of martyrdom, a sobering reflection from Fr. George Rutler, from his parish bulletin at St. Michael‘s in midtown Manhattan this week:
Maewyn Succat did not have an easy time embracing the Faith. Although his father Calpurnius was a deacon, Maewyn indulged a spirited youthful rebellion against what he had been taught, and it was only after being kidnapped by superstitious people called Druids that he realized the difference that Christianity makes in the souls of men and the character of cultures. This was in the fifth century, and Maewyn, probably born in the Cumbria part of England near the Scottish lands, was roughly contemporary with the bishop Augustine in North Africa who watched the decay of the Roman Empire. Maewyn eventually became a bishop in Rome where Pope Celestine I re-named him Patricius, the “Father of His People.” His people were to be in the land of Eire where he had suffered in virtual slavery.
Patrick was neither the first nor the only one to bring the Gospel there. Foundations were also laid by such missioners as Palladius, Ciarán of Saighir, Auxilius, Secundinus and Iserinus. One reason Patrick was sent to Ireland was to stem the spread of the Nestorian heresy, which misrepresented the “hypostatic union” of Christ as true God and true Man. A couple of centuries later, Nestorians in the East would influence Mohammed’s misunderstanding of Christ. Patrick was not subtle when it came to the truth: “That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken.”If Patrick, whom the archdiocese of New York is privileged to invoke as its patron, could witness what has become of his feast in the streets of our city, he might think that the Druids were having their revenge. He certainly would decry the notion that his feast was merely a celebration of an ethnic identity which was not his, or of a conviviality not rooted in Christian moral reason. This Saint Patrick’s Day, Maewyn/Patricius would bond more instinctively with the beheaded and crucified martyrs in the Middle East and Nigeria (whose official patron is Patrick) now spilling their blood for Christ, than with some revelers on Fifth Avenue who pantomime his name while spilling beer. There is a difference between martyrs and leprechauns.
This is not to dampen good spirits and rightful celebration, risky though they are in these Forty Days when the shadow of the Cross looms larger daily. But it is a reminder of the cost of discipleship in a cynical culture, and of the heavy cost of succumbing to the threats of the morally bewildered who, with adolescent petulance, would intimidate the Church that carried the Gospel across the Irish Sea. Patrick said when he braved the dark pagan groves: “If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me.”