I spent some time earlier this month researching Saint Patrick, who we all know banished all of the snakes from Ireland, had a shamrock farm, and invented green beer. BUT IT’S NOT TRUE!! He likely did none of these things, but the life he lived was amazing, and I’m going to share a little bit of that history. And then I’m going to write about viruses and fear, and indecision. After that I intend to tie in some economics, and at the end I’ll give you a charge, an encouragement if you will - and then you’ll go about your day. Sound good?
Saint Patrick first came to Ireland as a captive slave, kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16. He was the son of a decurion and a deacon in England, or perhaps Scotland or Wales (he’s famous so they fight over him - and it was a long time ago - 432ish AD). His father was thus holding both a powerful local government role and a powerful role within the church hierarchy. Patrick, however, did not share the faith of his father.
His time in captivity working as a shepherd led him into Christian faith, however, and he began to spend much time in prayer. He also became fluent in the Irish language and aware of their social and religious hierarchy. Basically Ireland was run by the Druids - the local heads of a paganistic and polytheistic religious and government order. The population of Ireland were the Celtics, who had to this point successfully resisted Roman efforts to conquer and fold them into the empire. After six years’ captivity, Patrick heard a voice telling him to return home, that his ship was ready. He traveled two hundred miles to a port city, and persuaded the ship’s captain to allow him to board.
After landing in England, the ship’s occupants became lost in the wilderness for weeks and nearly starved. Legend holds that Patrick prayed for sustenance and that soon after the men came across a herd of boars. Some of the men came to Christian faith as a result of this miracle, likely Patrick’s first converts. He eventually made his way back to his family, where he began to take up the study of Christianity in earnest. During this time, Patrick records a vision he had, in which he is handed a letter. As he begins to read the letter, headed “The Voice of the Irish”, he begins to the hear Irish voices, calling out together - “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us!”
Years later, after completing his studies and gaining ordination, Patrick returned to Ireland, and walk among them he did. He spoke to them about one God in three persons - using the prolific three-leafed shamrock as an illustration. He converted the sons of kings, convinced wealthy women to convert to nuns, and he trained and appointed priests to guide these new Christian communities. He was persecuted, jailed, and beaten along the way - but always responded with forgiveness and faith. He personally baptized thousands and planted firmly the church in Ireland. He is known as the Apostle of Ireland, and is considered equal-to-the-apostles by many, including the Anglican, Catholic, Eastern Orthadox, and Lutheran churches of today. So yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
There were never any snakes in Ireland, post-glacial period at least, and green beer was invented by Professor Thomas H. Curtin in New York in 1914.
So, what do we care about all this?...and how is it related to today?
Well, I think it’s because Saint Patrick’s life is a story of triumph over circumstance. Of having a vision and acting on it. Of facing adversity and moving forward anyway.
Like all of you, I’ve been inundated by news reports and stories about the COVID virus. Perhaps unlike most of you, I’ve also heard dozens (and dozens and dozens) of stories by now of real, big-time impacts to the small businesses of our community. Some are closed temporarily, many will never re-open, and almost everyone has had to completely change the way we do business over the last few weeks. Disaster loans and stimulus bills will not begin to fill the economic holes in our community, and we’ll be looking at extremely high unemployment, falling real estate prices and average wages, and a lot of financial pain for families in the months ahead. On the micro level, there are so many layoffs my head is spinning - and every one of them is a tough conversation. For small businesses, their people are like family, and to let someone go who has helped them build their business - there is almost nothing else they’d rather do. But as stewards of their business, the owners must make these hard decisions to survive.
And yet...we fear not. Or, we fear, but we move forward anyway. Businesses are already turning obstacles into opportunities, and we as a nation and as a world will learn so much through the financial tragedy ahead. There are kindnesses being extended between and among people at a level I haven’t seen in decades - probably since 9/11. Though there will be lasting consequences of this pandemic, we will move through this. My charge to you is to find the silver linings, rally around one another, and keep pushing toward those obstacles to your own success - find a way over or around or through. Be strong, and March forward - together.