Welcome to the weekend of St. Patrick and St. Joseph, two of the most popular saints on the Church calendar! Their feasts have been occasions for much revelry for centuries but each bears even growing significance in our time.
Little is actually known about both saints, although great traditions and folklore have developed around each.
The dates of Patrick’s life are not certain, although he is placed in the late fifth century when he was a missionary and bishop in Ireland, which was largely a polytheistic country up until then. His preaching and travels were the evangelization of his day and he is credited with developing Christianity on the Emerald Isle. The faith in Ireland developed and grew to the point that its monasteries actually saved Western civilization through the preservation of the written word through the Dark Ages.
According to his Confessio, when Patrick was about 16 years of age, he was brought as a slave to Ireland. After six years of labor, he escaped, only to return one day as a priest. He became the first Bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. He died on March 17, hence the date of his feast day, a holy day of obligation in Ireland.
Certainly, today’s Ireland could use a new Patrick. The faith has waned in what was a solid Catholic nation. Mass attendance is down and the seminaries are empty. There is even a push to legalize abortion there, a move that cuts at the heart of Christian thought.
This summer, Pope Francis will travel to Dublin, the capital, for the World Meeting of Families. Hopefully, it will be the impetus for a new emphasis on the family that has always been the bedrock of Irish Catholic society.
Little also is known about the life of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. There is very little mention of him in the Gospels. Most of what we revere about Joseph comes from church tradition and popular piety. One thing of which we are certain is that he, along with Mary, was responsible raising Jesus from childhood to adult life. A carpenter by trade, he passed along that skill to his son, although there is no evidence that Jesus actually worked in the field. He seemed to prefer hanging out with fishermen.
The next time you visit St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Brooklyn, make sure you notice the beautiful stained-glass windows that highlight moments in the life of Joseph.
The contemporary application of Joseph, of course, is his example of faithful fatherhood, so much needed today. So many households are without fathers, a sociological experience that is froth with danger. A recent statistic indicated that most of the young people who have perpetrated the major gun violence events in the country come from fatherless homes. Not surprising! We need more Josephs to build up the family lives of our people.
The legacies of both Patrick and Joseph lead us back to the family unit and the necessity for encouraging and building stronger bonds among fathers, mothers, children and the extended family members. There is no substitute. Everything we do as a Church should somehow relate to building stronger family life.
So, celebrate two great Catholic traditions this weekend. Go see a parade! Eat corned beef and cabbage. On March 19, seek out an Italian bakery for the special St. Joseph’s pastries. I prefer the cannoli cream. But whatever you do, celebrate as a family and be grateful for the Catholic images that provide us with guidance to living life as it should be lived.