Archive for March 2017
Parades, concerts, shamrocks and the “wearing o’ the green” mark the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on today. But the real-life fifth century man is even more colorful.
Ironically, Ireland’s patron saint wasn’t born Irish. Born either in England or Scotland to a church deacon, he was kidnapped as a boy to pirates, who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He grew up a shepherd until he was able to flee and return to his family.
Yet Ireland or God, or both, still had a hold on him: He had a vision in which the Irish were begging him to “come and walk among us again.” He went to France, studied with the Church and was ordained a bishop.
He set up a base in northern Ireland, then gradually won over the fierce Celtic warlords who ruled parts of the island. A popular story has him lighting a bonfire near the hill of Tara, eventually winning over King Laoghaire there. Over the next 40 years, Patrick built churches all over Ireland, baptizing thousands, ordaining priests, converting the sons of local kings.
Stories multiplied about him: that he used a three-leafed clover to show the threefold nature of God, that his walking stick grew into a tree, and that he drove all serpents off the island (although none are believed to have ever been there). It’s said also that he performed a thousand miracles during his time in Ireland.
Whatever the truth of such stories, his dedication and legacy of Celtic Christianity are beyond question. One of the most popular saints, he is honored not only in Ireland but also by the Church of England and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Patrick himself testified his devotion in writings like his chant-like poem “The Breastplate”:
Christ be 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 danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger
Patrick died on March 17, 461, at Saul, the site of his first church. He is believed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland.
— JAMES D. DAVIS
Sundown today ushers in Purim, the joyous Jewish Festival of Lots that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from a would-be mass murderer 25 centuries ago.
The story, told in the biblical book of Esther, takes place in Persia, where many of the Jews were living in exile. There Esther, a Jewish woman, won a beauty contest and married King Ahasuerus.
Haman, the king’s prime minister, hated the Jews after Esther’s cousin Mordecai refused to bow to him. Haman persuaded the king, who was unaware Esther was Jewish, to sign an iron-clad decree for the Jews’ extermination.
After Esther bravely pled her people’s case, Ahasuerus changed his mind but could not rescind the decree. However, he issued another order allowing the Jews to defend themselves. They killed thousands of their enemies, and Haman was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.
Purim takes its name from the Hebrew word for “lots,” for the method by which Haman had decided the date of the slaughter — which became, instead, the day of the great Jewish victory.
Boisterous celebrations lift Purim above its formal status as a minor religious holiday. Synagogues and Jewish community centers often sponsor Purim festivals, with carnival rides and games. Costume parties have children dressing as their favorite Purim characters. And refreshments include hamantaschen, triangular pastries in the traditional shape of Haman’s hat.
— JAMES D. DAVIS
Boisterous Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday celebrations give way today to Ash Wednesday, the start of six weeks of Lent. The season is a period of solemnity before Good Friday, the traditional observance of Jesus’ death, which will fall on April 14 this year.
Ash Wednesday takes its name from ashes daubed on the faithful as a sign of penitence, with the traditional words, “Remember you are dust and will return to dust.”
Lent is a somber season marked by prayer, introspection and repentance. For Catholics, it also includes fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays for those 14 years and older.
— JAMES D. DAVIS