Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Every St. Patrick’s Day, I remember how I loved to read the Lives of the Saints when I was a teenager. I grew up a Methodist and we don’t really believe in saints, but I still loved the stories of St. Katherine of Sienna (famous for shaking her fist at God and shouting, “If this is how you treat your friends, it is a wonder you have any” when she was thrown out of her carriage and into the mud by a runaway horse) or St. Francis who called everybody and everything brother and sister.

St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most famous and fun holidays in countries where Catholicism is prominent, and anywhere there is a strong Irish presence. St. Patrick (387-493) really did exist. Two letters he wrote survive and many eyewitnesses tell stories about him. The problem with St. Patrick, as with most of the saints, is that the stories about them rarely contain more than a grain of truth.

People who write biographies of saints are called “hagiographers” and they have written widely about Patrick. He is credited with driving all snakes out of Ireland, of being able to induce darkness and earthquakes, and of converting thousands of Druids to Christianity.

Biographies of saints would not meet any modern day standards of journalism and often bear little resemblance to anything that could be true, even if one believes, as I do, in miracles. So I wonder why I loved them as a teenager and still have a warm place in my heart for them? I think because they told me things that I needed to believe at the time: for example, that it is fine, (in fact, holy), to defy convention, to be ostracized from family, to believe deeply in a cause.

I doubt anyone today calls him or herself a hagiographer, although I think some ghostwriters and advertising copy writers would give hagiographers a run for their money. This St. Patrick’s Day I want to recapture some of the inspiration I gained from the Lives of the Saints, particularly in regard to being willing to take risks and make sacrifices for a greater good.

No comments: