Abbot Patrick’s homily for St Patrick’s Day 2014

We are living in a world mostly created by propaganda and politics. Everything that happens can be used for someone’s vested interest. Saint Patrick is a case in point. He has become a major fall-guy in this game of manipulation and is used as a battering ram by every cause that can hire a float in the St Patrick’s day parade. For many years St Patrick was portrayed as a bearded patriarch wearing a huge mitre and wielding a mighty crosier, driving out snakes and annihilating pagans. He was the patron of hierarchical male-dominated Irish Catholicism. ‘For God and St Patrick and our Native Home.’

Today we’re dancing to a more commercial tune. Tourism Ireland tells us that ‘St Patrick’s Day is a unique and unrivalled opportunity to promote Ireland worldwide.’ Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar says: ‘Going Green for St Patrick is a great way to get the world talking about Ireland,’ ‘It’s a simple idea with minimal costs, but it’s also an incredibly effective marketing strategy. It gets Ireland on to front pages around the world, at a time of year when people are planning their summer breaks.’ Talk about cheap: The Taj Mahal, the Niagara Falls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the EmpireStateBuilding, will all go green to celebrate Saint Patrick. In Chicago the river running through the city is turned green to start a weekend of celebrations. ‘The idea of dyeing the Chicago River green,’ says Bill King, erstwhile co-ordinator of St Patrick Celebrations in Chicago, ‘originally came about by accident when plumbers were cleaning the sewers and using fluorescein dye to trace illegal substances that were polluting the river.’ A change was made, you’ll be glad to hear, to a vegetable dye to protect the thousands of goldfish that populate the river.

There are certain ironies about our national saint which we might contemplate before we are led by the nose into various war dances on a day like today: the first is that St Patrick was English rather than Irish. A film called 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar award for Best Motion Picture of the Year this month. Those who have seen it are horrified that such inhuman behaviour could have happened anywhere on our planet. This memoir was written in 1853 by Solomon Northup. He was a New York State-born free African-American who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.

St Patrick wrote a similar memoir fourteen hundred years earlier in the second half of the fifth century. It is one of the only things we can be pretty sure that he wrote himself. When he was about 16 years old, he was captured from his home in England by our ancestors and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family in England. Not for him ‘the little bit of heaven [that] fell from out the sky one day,’ the Emerald Isle, the cushla ma chree. 6 Years a Slave:  was his Confessio and it was Guantanamo and not ‘GalwayBay’ that he was singing.

The second irony is that far from wanting to spend his days in an Irish Pub drinking green beer and whooping it up with the lads and the lassies, Patrick regarded the Irish as ignorant barbarians. Barbaras itaque gentes  he describes us in his Confessio: ‘a barbarian people that worshipped idola et immunda, idols and filthy things.’ So the real miracle is that the escaped prisoner came back to hell, returned to prison, to liberate us. And we should be the beneficiaries, if we weren’t still obsessed with idola et immunda.

The third irony is that if you are going to dye the river for St Patrick’s day ‘Blue’ rather than ‘Green’ is should be St Patrick’s colour. Blue appears on the Irish Presidential flag and Coat of Arms. The change to green began around the middle of the Eighteenth Century.

The icon of St Patrick presented to this church in 2008 is a very beautiful reminder of some of these ironies. St Patrick is wearing blue not green; he is bathed magnificently in a sea of gold; and the writer of the icon is Maria Sigala-Spanopoulos, a Greek Orthodox Iconographer.  So, let us harvest some of the fruit of these ironies and pray that St Patrick may help us to come together as believers, both men and women, of every denomination throughout the world; may he help us to improve relations between all peoples, especially on these neighbouring islands; and may we not pollute ourselves, in any sense of the word, on this day of all days, but let’s look out for the goldfish and look after the green island we have so graciously been given