It's fascinating to me how holidays that start out with deep and profound religious themes wind up, especially in America, as secular celebrations of silliness or worse.
Christmas, as we know, now isn't so much a commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth as it is a season in which to max out our credit cards buying a lot of stuff people really don't need. Easter isn't about the resurrection these days so much as about eggs and candy and bunnies and spring.
And St. Patrick's Day today is an excuse to get drunk on green beer and pretend to be Irish.
Well, I know that, in the end, what I'm about to do is a useless exercise, but I'm once again going to link you to this lovely talk about the real St. Patrick. It was given several years ago by Raymond J. Boland, then bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Boland died recently in his native Ireland.
As Boland notes, all the hoopla associated with the way we celebrate St. Patrick's Day now is pretty over the top, but:
"If this be the price of preserving his memory, I'm sure Patrick won't object, at least not too strenulously. After all, he leads the world in the 'saints recognition category' and the number two, whoever he or she is, is a long way behind. Yes, my dear friends, there is a real saint, a man of flesh and blood, hidden behind the festoons of shamrocks, unencumbered by a plethora of dejected shakes and serpents and we could all do ourselves a favor by making his acquaintance and allowing him to enhance our lives."
So drink your green beer today. Wear your green hair and shamrock sweaters. But also give a thought to the real man whose life made such silliness possible.
(I found the image of St. Patrick here today at this site.)
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As Christian churches look for ways to reinvent themselves to appeal to a new generation, the same thing is happening in parts of Judaism, it turns out. Here's a story about one such effort in New York City. Maybe the reinventers in each faith tradition should hold a convention and learn from one another.