St. Patrick's Day and the Coronavirus

This is the strangest St. Patrick’s Day in memory. Rather than gathering in its pubs to celebrate, America is hunkered in its homes to hibernate.

What are we to make of this? How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s day when the coronavirus clogs the airwaves, closes the airways, and contaminates the air?

Perhaps St. Patrick can help. For while his holiday is widely celebrated, Patrick himself is virtually unknown. Who was he? Why is he remembered as the patron saint of Ireland?

The surprising thing about Patrick is that he was not even Irish. He was born in Britain around 390 A.D. His family was deeply religious – his father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest – but Patrick was not.

When Patrick was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and enslaved in Ireland. For six long years he was malnourished and mistreated, fearing for his life, and longing for his family.

As is often the case, however, hard times offer the opportunity for spiritual growth and character development. In these dark days, Patrick reflected deeply on the Christian faith he had ignored in his youth.

He found solace in the story of Jesus, who welcomed the stranger and gave hope to the hopeless. Outcast himself, alone and without hope, he placed his trust in Jesus and determined to follow him for the rest of his life.

In time, Patrick escaped his captors and made the dangerous 200 mile trek to the Irish coast. Persuading a ship’s captain to take him aboard, he found his way to his family and, no doubt, there was a grand reunion.

Before long Patrick felt a call to the priesthood. In particular, he felt called to the people of Ireland who seemed to be crying out to him, "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."

Patrick went to Europe to continue his studies. Fifteen years later, he returned to Ireland to share the liberating love of Jesus with the country that had once enslaved him.

When he arrived in Ireland, it was almost entirely pagan. By the time he died, it was overwhelmingly Christian. His solitary life changed the course of Ireland's history -- and that is why Patrick is remembered as their patron saint.

Other than a brief walk down history’s lane, what does this have to do with our current national crisis in general, and St. Patrick's Day in particular?

Among other things, Patrick's story reminds us that times of isolation and difficulty are often our best opportunity to regain perspective on the things which matter most.

We can, of course, spend these days griping at the media and bemoaning our fate. Or we can follow Patrick's example of using these unwelcome days to refocus and recalibrate our lives.

Right now, for example, many of us would likely be focused on sporting events (remember March Madness?), on work and shopping, and in our community's case, on rodeos and parades. All of these have their relative value, and we certainly miss them.

But without these to occupy our time, we have the opportunity to focus on what really matters: our loved ones, our health, our neighbors, and our solidarity with humanity around the globe.

Times of trouble can also allow us to reconnect to our spiritual roots, just as it did for St. Patrick.

For example, one of the many meaningful things about the Christian faith is this: Jesus shared our suffering. By living a fully human life, he felt sorrow, loneliness, abandonment, exhaustion, and even death itself.

When we come to him, he promises rest for our burdened hearts (Matthew 11:28) and peace for our troubled hearts (John 14:27). And because he shared our human body, we know these are not empty promises.

In times of particular crisis – when markets tumble, when life-as-we-know-it stops, when medicine runs out of answers, owhen health fails us, and when disaster overtakes us – the resurrection of Jesus offers the assurance of life even when we breathe our last.

“In me you may have peace,” he says. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Yes, these are troubled times. And on this side of eternity, things don't always add up. But someday they will, and that gives us hope, so long as we place our trust in him.

When Patrick was busy being a teenager he had no cares and little time to contemplate the ultimate realities of life. Once the scaffolding of his life was torn away, he discovered what really mattered, and that changed everything for him.

So go ahead and raise a pint today, if that’s your thing. As you do, say a prayer of thanksgiving for St. Patrick. For in the midst of his darkest days he found a hope to give him light. It was a light which shone so bright that the course of an entire country was changed.

And while you're at it, ask God to help you use these solitary moments well, so that when life returns to normal, it will never be normal again.

St. Patrick's Prayer
May the Strength of God pilot us
May the Power of God preserve us
May the Wisdom of God instruct us
May the Hand of God protect us