Saturday, December 18, 2010

St. Patrick's contribution to Ireland, and Father Jack

A few months ago a came across an opinion piece entitled “Did St. Patrick do Ireland such a favour by bringing Christianity here?”. While this article considered minimal innovative consideration it reflected a popular persuasion among Irish people, riding the wave of New Atheism evangelizing the agnostics of the Western world. The premise of the piece catalogues the pains brought on the Irish by the Christian church and concludes the faction spawned by St. Patrick birthed greater suffering than contentment. Is such a conclusion justified?

Modern headlines cannot long avoid a clerical scandal. The scandal triggered from Bishop Casey's sexual and fruitful relationship with an American divorcee, that came to light in the early 90's, was unsettling but at least humorous. Later when the horror stories relating to the Magdalene Laundries began to surface no one was laughing. The thought of young ladies forced to labour for the profit of heartless Nuns caught the attention of the media elite. For a brief period songs, movies, books, articles and T.V. Dramas concerning these disregarded destitutes dominated the media bulletin. As horrific as these institutions were portrayed they were dwarfed by the revulsion brought on by the Ryan Report. The Ryan Report relayed heart wrenching accounts of the most heinous abuse of innocent children. Abuse being so epidemic it has been referred to by some as Ireland's Holocaust. The idea that the Catholic Church, who represent the God of love, mercy and justice could employ an army of clergy who raped and assaulted their necessitous children should rock the faith of the devoutest of congregants. While these abuses focus on Catholicism, Protestantism has faired little better. Ireland's most famous protestant, Ian Paisley, preached his personal theology of bigotry, heresy and hatred for decades to tumultuous applause. This repugnant calvinist brought the religious flavor to the Northern Irish conflict that devastated the province for decades. Or dear Iris Robinson who famously declared “just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual.... If anyone takes issue, they're taking issue with the word of God”. All the while, married Mrs. Robinson was illegally funding her 19 year old lover's business, as long as he gave a cut to the church. Infinitely more influential was cultural icon, Father Ted; as the Catholic Church lost it's moral high-ground the final authority on all matters, sit-coms presented the clergy as drunken, half-witted, immoral, non-chalant agnostics. Hey, it made us laugh, so it must be true! Maybe the Church was a bunch of power hungry, bacchanalian, fascist pedophiles, who fired out “that would be an ecumenical matter!” in between bouts of drunkenness. In a few short years Irish Christianity seem to evolve from St. Bridget to Father Jack Hackett.

The enumeration of ecclesiastical atrocities adds credence to the ideal that Ireland would have been better off if St. Patrick left the Celts alone. But this ideal fails to acknowledge that St. Patrick didn't land on Ireland; Ireland landed on St. Patrick. Patrick came from comfortable surroundings in Britain, with a loving family to raise him. In his youth Patrick was an agnostic who regarded Christian Priests as “silly”. As a young man Patrick would have fitted in with the New Atheism his critics espouse. He could have happily grown, matured and died in his homeland foregoing his providential consequence. But a catastrophe befell adolescent Patrick; as he slumbered in his family home, thieves of children snuck in through his window and abducted the teenager. One can barely conceive the horror endured by young Patrick's parents when they awoke to discover their precious child shanghaied. Or the waking nightmare Patrick underwent as he was spirited away to a foreign land. At the time Ireland's predominant enterprise was the slave trade; Patrick was a victim of human trafficking. He feel prey to the most vicious slave traders of the time, who amassed their fortunes in the destruction of innocence and rupture of the family. But such is the obvious by-product of a culture build around cruel tribal warfare and hierarchy fashioned to oppress the masses. Before reckoning how Ireland may have evolved without the Christian message we must appreciate Patrick brought Christ to Ireland because Ireland brought Satan to Patrick.

By the time of St. Patrick's death Ireland transformed from a haven of violence, tyranny and slavery to a place of peace, civilization, equality and altruism. Within one generation, in the spirit of Christianity, slavery was abolished. While other European nations would take nearly one and a half millennia to abandon this brutal trade, the God who Patrick worshipped inspired the most vicious slave traders to spear head one of the earliest movements to recognize divinely appointed human dignity. The transformation was void of legislative imperatives but epitomized a metamorphosis of the very soul. The populous of Ireland deprived themselves of their established economy and embraced poverty because the deplorable trade was an offense to God. What never before convicted the Irish was now intolerable; they loved Christ, Christ loves everyone, how can we abuse those whom Christ loves? And in that simplicity Ireland repented. The spiritual fervor led to terrestrial woes but the Celts were firm in their resolve “no earthly pleasure can compare with the jubilation of being Christ's servant”. This truth grasped by the Celts of old was as true to them as it is to their descendents presently. Alas another truth is as timeless; renewals of man's natural goodness inspires negligible communal observation whereas expressions of depravity entertain us indefinitely. An abusive priest or financial mismanagement will dominate headlines but clergy who steers couples from the brink of divorce to marital bliss rarely captures media attention. Yet all personify a spiritual selection: do we embrace Christ or reject His plan? It seems modern times have produced an explosion in those who embrace worldly fruits and forfeit the ways of Heaven. Nevertheless, the ways of Christ are as jubilantly beyond comprehension presently as millennia before and many still walk in the light. For every abusive priest there are legions of unsung clergy who would readily decapitate limbs before raising them to assault. There are those who institutionalized for nefarious reasons but the preponderance of the cloths sought to serve the 35,000 impecunious who had none to care for them. For every deep-throated heretic touting God's hatred as a given for their political enemies a hundred more sang the sublime truth God Loves All. For the individuals scarred by the crimes of these notorious minority there exists battalions, inspired by the unconditional love of Christ, who have become fixated with eradicating pain in all of creation.

For those who place primacy on their relationship with God, abuse of any form is repugnant; for those who place primacy on terrestrial pursuits ecclesiastical sins serve as excuses to persevere along their preferred path. The latter, sees sinners as reflections of Christ and hence reject the word they offer. Yet everyday millions of congregants pray in unison “look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church”. The Christian message is not an invitation for good folk to be part of the groovy holy gang but for sinners to look to Christ's perfection and sacrifice for fulfillment. The building blocks of the Church is sinners, the Devil's rejects. Should we be shocked to find elements of this menagerie struggling to achieve perfection? And as these combatants, of which I am a member, find solace in the sinless life of Christ and the Holy Spirit's persistent assuaging of selfish inclinations; spiritual dilemmas of fellow strugglers fail to quake our faith. St. Patrick's message was of Christ, not the greatness of the Church. St. Patrick desired for the Irish an unnewsworthy revolution of the heart; for individuals to conform to Christ's perfect image. A social revolution began in St. Patrick's day, but an individual revolution begins for every soul that turns from their current path and starts toward heaven. For every human that occupies their ephemeral moment of this earth looking at their own body and how best to serve it will come imminently close to unraveling why Priests abuse children and Preachers spout self-serving hatred. For every one whose face turns its eyes to the Celestial Throne and who spend their lives traversing towards the source of all love are those who are thankful that St. Patrick returned to his captors and oppressors to share the love he learned, not in aloof Seminary, but on sloping, green hills of Antrim (the county of my birth) tending the cattle of those who robbed him of the opportunity to be a comfortable, indifferent, agnostic.

God Love You -- Rev. Sheen

1 comment:

  1. Very articulate and well-written. We are all still earthen vessels holding the divine.

    The Church has benefited Ireland (and the world) in more ways than it realizes.