In the great register of fierce animal names, you will not find the anguis, or slow worm. You almost have to feel sorry for the slow worm: it’s bad enough to be a worm, right, but if you had to be a worm, you’d want to be the fast worm maybe, or the savage worm or something like that. Worse yet, slow worms aren’t even worms, but rather lizards, lizards who have no legs. So slow worms are legless lizards who are so slow and easy to catch that most people don’t even bother; it’s a rough life for the slow worm. Why am I telling you about the slow worm? Because slow worms look for all the world like snakes, and that makes slow worms the only thing that looks like a snake in (wait for it….) Ireland.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, when we commemorate the most famous Irishman to ever be born in Scotland to Roman parents. “Patrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably Kilpatrick. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. As a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. He learned the language and practices of the people who held him. During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.” “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
“Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britian, where he reunited with his family. He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”
He began his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years. Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane. One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick.
Patrick began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick’s message.
Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461.”1
My own connection to St. Patrick is by marriage, that is to say that my father-in-law is the Rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Falls Church, Virginia. I have no doubt that St. Patrick himself would be comfortable there: that parish is a place of many languages and practices, Eastern and African and Anglican and yes, Celtic, and I think Patrick would dig the diversity. Patrick would like their habit of converting the Pagan and the Buddhist, converting them with the same message that Patrick preached 1600 years ago. In the end, Patrick would recognize his namesake parish for what it is: the Church, in all it’s messy glory.
The Church can be almost as messy as South Olden road after the Trenton St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s messy because the Church is inhabited by people, people like us. And that’s not a bad thing; in fact, that’s what the Church is for, it’s for people and all of our disagreements and oddities, for the slow worms among us and the Patricks among us, for those who are sent by God and those who receive those sent by God.
This St. Patrick’s Day, my prayer for us is that, as Patrick himself wrote, that the love of God and his fear will grow in us more and more, that our souls will be so roused, that in a single day we may say as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.
1. Patrick, Catholic Online, http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89