Saints, Snakes and Souses

Lent 4B
March 18, 2012

Number 21:4-9

Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22

John 3: 14-21

Here in the middle of Lent, when we’re busy trying to inventory our lives and clean out our spiritual garbage, we suddenly have the rude cultural interruption of St. Patrick’s Day.  There is nothing like having all your friends invite you out for a pub crawl when you’ve given up the drink for Lent.  Normally, I stick fairly close to the Lectionary for my posts, but I’d like to make a little detour this week – particularly since Saint Paddy’s Day causes many people to detour (not to mention crash and burn).

Although St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, he is generally recognized as the Patron Saint of Ireland, and his Feast Day (March 17) is recognized by the Anglican Church.  Very few

St. Patrick Banishing the Snakes

solid historical details are known about his life, other than the fact that he was captured and enslaved by Irish pagans as a teenager for six years, escaped back to his parents’ home, and eventually came back to Ireland as an ordained bishop serving the north and west (“St. Patrick”, Wikipedia).  What St.  Patrick is popularly known for are the legends that grew up around his name.  The first legend is that he explained the nature of the Holy Trinity to Irish converts by using the example of the three-leafed clover.

Sebastien Bourdon. "Moses and the Brazen Serpent". c.1653-54.

The second legend is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast (echoing Jesus’ 40 days in the desert).  Due to the fact that there have never been any snakes in Ireland (Ibid., Wikipedia), the legend serves more as an explanatory fable, and possibly an allegory for St. Patrick’s many triumphs over pagan religion.  The legend may have been partly based on the Torah Portion reading we have for this week, which relates Moses’ rescue of the Israelites from a plague of snake-bites by nailing a bronze snake to a staff and commanding all who were bitten to gaze on it.

If St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland (even if only in legend), they seem to have been ushered right back in under his name, in the form of Ireland’s other plague: alcoholism.  I am one of many, many people with an Irish family history of alcoholism (including myself, in recovery for 15 years).  I remember writing in my journal on my first St. Patrick’s Day sober, “I want to go out and celebrate my Irish heritage by going to a bar, getting drunk and picking a fight.”

But seriously.

Drunk Driving Accident (Fatal)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 103 crash fatalities on St. Patrick’s Day 2009, 37% of which involved an impaired driver and/or motorcyclist with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08% and higher.  Authorities are particularly concerned about St. Paddy’s Day 2012, due to the alignment of the holiday with March Madness NCAA Championship Basketball.  If your drinking is causing problems in your life or the lives of your family and friends, GET HELP.  Run, don’t walk to the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in your area (your phone book will most likely have a number for your local AA Intergroup, which can give you meeting times, locations, and even a friendly voice to talk to if you need one).

And for those of you who have not been bitten by the “snakes” of Ireland, here’s some ways to spend St. Patrick’s Day that don’t involve alcohol:

  • Go somewhere green – get outdoors and enjoy the Spring air!
  • Dig around in the yard and plant something!
  • Have some mint chocolate chip ice cream!
  • Go “green” and clean up litter around your neighborhood!
  • And, by all means, wear green!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck o’ the Irish be with ye!

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