A Peek into a Famous Parade
On this day in 1762, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held, but not in Ireland. Irish soldiers stationed in colonial New York City organized the first procession. Though St. Patrick parades are held in over 100 U.S. cities every year, the New York event is considered the grandest. Devoid of floats and vehicles, the parade is a long line of military units, bagpipers, high school bands and politicians—over 150,000 participants in all with over 2 million spectators lining the streets. The New York Archbishop usually reviews the parade on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Using the Common to Convey the Celestial
Why all the fuss? March 17 is the Catholic feast day of a man born in Britain, but enslaved in Ireland as a teenager. After six years of bondage, the young man escaped, but an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Seasoned by 15 years of religious training, Patrick was finally ordained a priest and commissioned to the Emerald Isle. Though the story of him driving out the snakes is just that – a story – we do know that St. Patrick brought scores of Irish into the fold of the church. He did it not by coercion, but by welding native practices and common objects to Christianity. For instance, he built a bonfire on Easter Eve in 433 A.D. to rival a pagan king’s fire on a nearby hill. People were drawn to the roaring flames and Patrick was able to preach to them about Christ, the Light of the World. There are also accounts of Patrick making crosses that included the sun, a Druidic symbol. Today the Celtic cross is a popular symbol throughout the Western world. And most everyone has heard the legend that Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Three-in-One concept of the Holy Trinity.
Following in Apostolic Footsteps
Patrick was following the example of Paul the Apostle, who wrote that he had become all things to all people while still keeping the standards of Christ. “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor 9:20-22 NIV, italics mine). As The Message version of this passage puts it, “I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. . .I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.”
We who worship Christ tend to see little good in non-Christian religions. We nitpick the doctrines of other belief-systems and sometimes even brand them as satanic. What we often miss is the basic spiritual yearning of all peoples, no matter what their creeds might be. It’s lazier to dismiss another’s faith (or lack thereof) than to engage them creatively, with a heart of love. The latter method has a better chance of bearing fruit.
Prayer and Reflection
Prayer: God of every race, tribe and tongue, when I am tempted to be judgmental or critical, remind me that your love rescued me from sin and death. Empower me to share the Gospel without anger or arrogance. Holy Spirit, fill me with creative ways to communicate the wonders of God, who desires that no one perish but everyone come to a knowledge of the truth that saves. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reflection Question: Would you be willing to risk gossip and criticism because you’re hanging out with sinners in order to win some to Christ?