Let me begin by wishing everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, as well as Irish Heritage/History Month. At this time of year, when so many people come out to celebrate their Irish heritage, it is the AOH at the forefront, and therefore our responsibility to put the best of Irish culture forward. We hear it every year, that people are acting in a manner unworthy of out patron Saint’s day, either through drunkenness, engaging in stereotypical behavior or because of some poor attempt at comedy. While members of our Order are above the prejudicial t-shirts, depicting anti-Irish “humor”, and the less than dignified bing-drinking, demonstrated by adolescents and college age revelers on the sidelines of parade routes, there are times that some of us are less than we should be on the 17th. I am reminded often of the old “Man in the Glass” poem, which hung in my father’s office for so many years, instructing the reader to refrain from behavior that will make them hesitate to look at themselves in the mirror. Chances are all of us have, at some time, done things we regret, with or without the excuse of alcohol; but if your actions or demeanor look like you step out of the pages of Punch magazine or drawn by Thomas Nast, then rethink how you want people to envision Irish culture. We make a promise we “will not countenance by (our) presence… any performance that may reasonably be interpreted as caricaturing or debasing the Irish people, whether in public or in private, in song, recitation or story, on the stage or on the screen” yet there are those who behave like walking caricatures. This St. Patrick’s Day, and accompanying season, march in parades, enjoy some food and drink, listen to some decent Irish music, but don’t give our enemies ammunition to use against us, or in ways that will make our friends and possible members avoid our company.
As we are in the Season of Lent, take this opportunity to better your relationship with God. Remember, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his Encyclical DEUS CARITAS EST “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”, which is what we should focus on during this Holy Season. So often we are caught up on outward observations, we forget about interior change. For years Catholics gave up meat on Friday, some calling it a sacrifice, others using it as an opportunity to enjoy some good seafood, and while there are those of us who keep Fridays “meatless” throughout the year, and all of us are called to do so in Lent, many forget why. We are free to eat the flesh of cold-blooded animals on Friday; however, abstaining from warm-blooded flesh is a reminder that the Flesh of Christ was nailed to the Cross on Friday. By the way, while those under fourteen and over sixty are not obliged to fast during Lent, they are required to abstain from meats.
One of the biggest problems we have had in the Church in recent times is the spread of wrong information by the media and others. In order to know what Pope Francis said, do not take the news media at face value, since they are out to make money and all have their own agendas. Instead try the Vatican’s website (www.vatican.va) which has links to its own news service, or try the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site (www.usccb.org); also check out your own diocese’s website.
Finally, I am working on a retreat weekend, this Fall, for any Hibernian that wants to take some time to pray and reflect, to deepen their relationship with God. For those hesitating about coming on a retreat with me, arrangements for other priests as confessors and spiritual directors will be in place.