We Americans are proud of our varied ethnic heritages. We laughingly debate who is more stubborn, or creative, or outgoing. And we enjoy sharing how many different backgrounds are contained in our family trees.
Except in March. In March, almost every American claims to have an Irish ancestor somewhere in his bloodline. An Irish ancestor who needs to be remembered and celebrated along with Saint Patrick.
The incidents in the life of Saint Patrick are also incidents in the life of Ireland. If the Irish had not responded to Patrick, there would be no holiday to celebrate. The holiday is equally a testament to the courage and conviction of Patrick, and to the willingness of the Irish to embrace and honor his gift of faith in their lives, matching his courage with their own.
One of the best examples of that willingness can be found in the baptism of Prince Aengus, son of the King of Munster. The baptism of an Irish prince by the famed Patrick was a very public affair, with the entire clan of Munster in attendance. As the ceremony progressed, Patrick accidentally pierced the foot of the young prince with the sharp point of his staff. The prince did not move or make a sound, and the staff remained in his foot for the duration of the ceremony.
When the baptism was completed and Patrick lifted his staff, he saw the blood and realized what had happened. He immediately called for someone to bind the prince’s foot, and asked why the young man had not said something earlier. The prince replied that he had assumed that the piercing was part of the ceremony, an offering for the blessings that were being imparted. It was an offering that he had been quite willing to give.
Looking at today’s America, one wonders what the Saint and the Irish who followed him would think about many of those who will toast them.
We want the blessings of liberty, but many of us do not even bother to vote to protect them. We want prosperity, but many of us believe we are entitled to
receive it without work. We want limited government, but many of us demand that Washington solve every problem instead of taking responsibility for our own actions. We want things to change, but many of us expect the price of that change to be paid by someone else.
The reality is that convictions come with a cost. Only those who are willing to bear the cost will see their convictions become reality. It’s the distinction between those who make excuses and those who make a difference. And in the end, it’s the most important distinction.
Saint Patrick made a difference because he acted on his convictions. The Irish who followed him did the same. If we truly want to celebrate their lives, we will combine our toast with a pledge to act on our own convictions, even when they come with a cost.