We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain, Patrick served years of captivity in Ireland before escaping and then returning to Ireland as a missionary. While some current celebrations are of an unseemly sort, there is a longstanding tradition of going to church that day and praying for spiritual renewal and missionaries worldwide. That is a tradition that fits the ethos of Simpson University.
It may be that not everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day or enjoys “the wearing of the green.” I don’t have much choice – I’m half Irish. My mom, full-blooded Irish, grew up in Indiana. I admit that I liked the Irish song Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder? made popular in the 1950s by Bing Crosby. I also like corned beef and cabbage. There were, however, stories of the relatives. One such story that circulated in my home was that my grandmother Jessie Daily was a distant cousin of outlaw Jesse James. Not necessarily a good Irish role model.
It was not easy for the Irish in the mid-1800s with the potato famine in Ireland causing more than a million deaths as well as the emigration of another million Irish. The influx of predominantly Roman Catholic Irish immigrants to the United States created concerns as the Irish “biddy” (Bridget) and “paddy” (Patrick) sought jobs and places to live. Stories of “No Irish Need Apply” (NINA) signs in shops and want ads are cited as indications of Irish mistreatment at the hands of the established people groups. Over time, the Irish immigrants became an integral part of the United States and reached a political pinnacle with the election of a Roman Catholic Irish president in 1960 – John F. Kennedy.
The Irish were just one of many immigrant groups to the United States. Historically, the most recent immigrant group found itself at the bottom of the social ladder while the previous immigrant group often persecuted the newest group. The Irish mistreated the Chinese in California, for example, and Italian immigrants were refused services by established banks (thus A.P. Giannini established the Bank of Italy in 1904, now the Bank of America).
Why the lesson on the Irish and immigration? The church has often found itself divided with factions claiming to be better than others. I’m of Paul or I’m of Apollos (I Cor. 3). I have the gift of tongues or healing or prophecy or faith or wisdom (I Cor. 12). I’m a Baptist, a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Pentecostal, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic. We tend to differentiate ourselves from others in a way that claims our group to be the best, the most important or righteous and pure.
The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of divisions by calling the Church to rise above the differences and distinctions that can pull it apart and focus on the identity and unity we share in Christ. In Galatians 3:26-28 he writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [ethnic, religious tradition], slave nor free [socio-economic], male nor female [gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” While I may be an American who is half-Irish, Protestant, middle class, and male, most importantly, I am one with you in Christ through faith.
It is said that St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover, the shamrock, to teach the Irish about the Trinity, the Three in One. May the “wearing of the green” remind us of our unity in Christ.
Grace, peace, and hope,
Dr. Robin Dummer