For the first time in over 150 years there are no Irishmen in the Passionist Community in St. Mungo’s, instead we are three Scotsmen and a Welshman; but that doesn’t mean we had no cause to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The Passionists are an international congregation that has communities in 61 countries throughout the world promoting the memory of Christ’s Passion. Part of the structure of the congregation is that it is divided into provinces. Our communities in Ireland and Scotland, together with an English-speaking parish in Paris, (where incidentally Oscar Wilde was received into the church at the end of his life, and where also the actor Martin Sheen made his confession to return to the church); and a formation community in London, form the Province of St Patrick. Every St. Patrick’s Day, then, is an opportunity for us to celebrate our province feast, and so it was that Fr. Justinian; Fr. Lawrence; Fr. Gareth and myself shared a nice meal together on 17th March.
For me, it felt strange not being in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, as that’s where I had spent the last 16 years, surrounded by all sorts of events and parades, and where the River Liffey and the Guinness turned green. To be honest I never, ever, went to the parade as our Mass times didn’t allow. After the Masses were over I would simply enjoy a celebration meal with the community and then relax for the rest of the day, which of course was a public holiday.
On just one occasion, though, after our meal on St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to walk into the city to observe the revelry, and soak in the aftermath of the parade. My chosen route took me down Grafton Street, Dublin’s best known shopping area, and I stopped awhile to join a gathering crowd around some street entertainers. The parade floats, the Irish dancers, and the pipe and ceilidh bands had long since disappeared, and instead a surreal atmosphere was being created by the rhythmic beat provided by a host of creative percussionists, one of whom was eliciting some remarkable sounds from the nearest litter-bin. There were a variety of jugglers and acrobats to marvel at, and the combination of the setting sun, the constant drum beat, fire-sticks being tossed into the air, and dancers weaving patterns in the air with beautifully coloured streamers, made me feel as if I were somewhere more exotic than downtown Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps Rio for the Mardi Gras or some such place.
Into the midst of all this came a young Irishman, perhaps early twenties, unconnected to the entertainers, totally sober it seemed to me, while others around him were certainly a bit the worse for wear after a day of heavy binge drinking, and he was walking around the crowd politely and respectfully asking people if they would like a free hug. He was so sincere you just couldn’t have turned him down, and nobody I saw did turn him down, male or female. Eventually he came to me and I too accepted my free hug and off he went. It may have been my imagination, but afterwards it seemed to me that there was a gentler, warmer, happier feeling in the crowd as a result of our unexpected and unconditional hug, what I suppose nowadays might be called a feel-good factor. So, whoever that young man was, he did a good job, and I hope he felt happy afterwards too.
In our Celtic tradition there are many breastplate prayers, prayers for the protection of Christ, but the one we all know best is St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Here is just an extract:
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness, of the Creator of creation. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise. Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today…