Each year, around spring break, our church honors two of her most revered sons: Joseph and Patrick. Italians claim Joseph, though he was Israeli, never setting foot in Italy, while the Irish claim Patrick, though he was not Irish; a prisoner there during his youth, he was sent back later to introduce and spread Christianity among a superstitious savage people that inhabited the enchanted Emerald Isle.
As winter reluctantly loosens its grasp on atmospheric pressures, we take a break from academics to seek a warmer experience—whether literally, through travel to beaches, mountains, or deserts, or figuratively by embracing a relaxing pace and refreshing rhythm. During the week amplified by celebratory revelry and March Madness, we might also feel pulled toward a religious break because our nature is not to experience constant partying or constant rest—it is to experience constant union with creation and Creator. Joseph and Patrick offer us a connection to both.
Pope Francis declared the last calendar cycle to be the Year of Saint Joseph. Joseph is sometimes referred to as the Silent Saint; he didn’t speak a single word in The Bible, but simply obeyed divine instructions that he was given. Known foremost for his obedience, courage, and humility, he is revealed to us initially when an angel spoke to him in a dream telling him to take his betrothed, Mary of Nazareth, into his home as his wife even though she was pregnant—but he was not the father. Next, after taking his wife on a long journey in which she gave birth, he was informed that a megalomaniacal monarch intended to kill their son; so, he protected his family and ran for their lives resulting in narrowly escaped dangers and undertaking an alien existence as immigrants. The final story we read about him is when his twelve-year-old son goes missing for three days while he and Mary search in anguish. From one harrowing event to another, Saint Joseph trusted in God’s guidance. So should we.
Some 400 years later, a teenager named Patrick from Wales, Gaul, or other regional land was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland where, for about six years, he was a shepherd boy. According to legend, he, too, had an instructional dream; it helped him escape onto a ship and eventually be reunited with his family. He became a priest, was made bishop, and given the horrible assignment of returning to the land of his captivity to shepherd differently on behalf of the church. He accompanied the heathens there by learning about their religious customs and strong connection to spirit worlds, uniting them with customs of Christianity. The green island, filled with leprechauns, shanachies, fairies, banshees, wee ones, and other mystical creatures, became a place of intersection where cultural and religious themes, aided by spirits of libation, were acknowledged, and sometimes revered. Saint Patrick was tireless in his ministry and mission that symbolically drove the evil (snakes) out of Ireland.
Though we often associate Joseph with decorative tables filled with delicious Italian cookies, wines, and cakes on March 19, while we similarly associate Patrick with parades and various alcohol produced in Ireland on the 17th, they are stalwart symbols of strength, forbearance, bravery, and very deep faith in God. During spring break, let us lift not just our glasses but our hearts to salute their goodness and realize that we’re all a little Italian and Irish because Joseph and Patrick penetrate human lives in every land and nation.