The Feast of Saint Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland

Today is the feast of Saint Patrick, today we celebrate his sainthood, and the ascendance to heaven of a British man, of Roman heritage, who lived sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries CE.

Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he was not Irish at all, he was a Roman of the Patrician class, from a family of rank and privilege.  

Patrick (Patricius) is credited with converting the people of Erin to faith in the Universal and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, in so doing he separated the Celtic people from their Gaelic traditions, subordinating them to the Catholic Church in Rome; he won with the Word what could not be accomplished through war, by sword and spear, by fire and blood and for this Patricius was named a Saint of the Church.

It should be noted that Saint Patrick has never been canonized, or even beatified not by any Pope, therefore Patrick is not officially a Saint of the Catholic Church; nevertheless, he is recognized in the annals of the Saints of the Church of England, I hope that all my Irish kinfolk appreciate the irony of this.

It is an irony worthy of song.

History tells us that Patrick was a humble man, a rare quality for those of rank. History also tells us that he himself proofed the plan of spreading the faith by converting the Irish chieftains first, this became the model for proselytizing and missionary work throughout Northern Europe.

Patrick was a politician of great skill. He spread the faith, established churches and earned the rank of Apostle by popular acclamation.

History tells us that his mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours, the Patron Saint of Soldiers otherwise known as Saint Martin of the Sword, whose biography was written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, and history also tells us that this a work of pure fiction; Saint Martin never lived, even so, his story gave license for Christians to become soldiers, to serve in the army and as such his story brought the Roman legions into the fold.

Patrick was said to have had a “heroic piety,” praying day and night, in the mountains and in the woods, he prayed through the rain and through storms of snow and ice, he should be the patron saint of post men if this were true, but then again…all hagiographies are lies.

His story tells us that he spent six years as a captive and servant to a Celtic Chieftain, the Druid named Milchu in Dalriada, where he mastered the language of the common folk and learned all of their stories.

However, if you appreciate history you will know that it is much more likely that he fled his home to wander abroad in order to escape the duties that were expected of him as the son of a nobleman. Such departures were common in his time, they were referred to as the “flight of the curiales,” and you may conclude that Patrick was no captive at all, he was just a boy running away from his responsibilities.

Rather than being taken captive it is more likely that he paid for asylum in Milchu’s house, and that while he was there he paid for the services of tutors who helped him learn the language. The Druids were great teachers and oral historians, this much we know is true.

The story of Patrick’s escape (if it was in fact an escape from servitude), and subsequent journey were of his own account. He cast the entire experience in dramatic, even biblical terms, which served both to cover up his crime of abnegation and to establish his fame.

It is said that Patrick escaped from Milchu and then fled to the mainland of Europe where he entered the priesthood and became a missionary. On his return to Ireland however, the first place he went was to his former home in Dalriada. Where, after some period of conflict with his former captor (or patron) and the affectation of some miracles on Patrick’s part, Milchu is said to have immolated himself in order to make way for the upstart Patrick, throwing himself on a fire after burning the collected scrolls and mysteries of his people.

This event may be seen in metaphorical terms as Milchu offering himself as a human sacrifice, at the foundation of the church in Ireland, that is how Patrick wrote it.

In reality the whole episode denotes the ritual destruction of the Celtic people in favor of the ascending Romano-British invaders.

On Easter Sunday, 433 a conflict of will ensued between Patrick and the Celtic Arch-Druid Lochru, historians mythologized it as a battle of divine forces like the contest between Moses and the Egyptians or Elijah and priests of Baal, and it ended with Saint Patrick magically hurling Lochru into the air, before he broke the druid into pieces on a sharp rock.

It was another ritual murder at the foundation of the Irish Church, another human sacrifice to be sure; there is no other way to read it, this was a good old-fashioned Roman slaughter.

On a side note, while speaking of his vaunted magic powers, and not to be outdone by Jesus, this same Patrick was said to have been able to raise the dead.

It should be noted the Saint Columbanus, the Patron Saint of Poetry, who was the most significant representative of the Irish Catholic Church after the Dark Ages, who lived and wrote and sent missionaries from Ireland to Continental Europe, where they built Churches and founded religious communities, Saint Columbanus (otherwise known as Columba or Colmcille) makes no mention of Saint Patrick in his writing, not once, not anywhere; on the contrary Columbanus tells us that the Church in Ireland was founded by a man named Palladius.

I think it may be said that the entire legend of Saint Patrick is little more than a myth designed to subordinate the Irish heart to a British nobleman of Roman descent, and a fictitious one at that.

Be mindful when you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day!

Impressions

You have heard it said that you are where you have been; you are, this is true

You are, and you are what you eat: gram by gram, ounce by ounce, pound by pound

Amino acids, proteins housing memories, engram by engram

Wraiths rush past me, reflections in the dirty-glass, reaching out for me

The rainfall pools, collected in the dirty-street, ghosts jump in the light

Places I have been, the trajectory of fate—weaving memories

Warped purpose, threads patterns on the loom, spindle fibers and neurons

Electrons repeat on the skein, loop in their circuit, strange and funny

Projections of the self, shuttled forward and backward, upside down through time

Lowly little worms emerging from the cocoon, butterflies with horns

Chrysalis in the milk-weed, monarchs in the street dressed in silk, burnt orange

Soft winds returning, lilac scents my garden, warm rains after winter

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

Saint Stephen

The prophet promised help, a song of hope floating in the morning light

love for the dandelion

Lilies blooming in the broken asphalt, begging to be considered

broken birds, with wings made of wishes

Saint Stephen by a chest full of arrows, got pinioned to a tree

while a thousand sparrows gathered in his branches

Garden ponds and baths gone dry, water stolen by the sun

cats cry at empty basins, biting at their fleas

Forgive them…the hungry and the homeless, living through the heat and cold

the lean dogs wandering the city

blessed are the meek

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

#TheBookofSparrows

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church

When I finally made it to the university, I went to a school named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, named for Saint Thomas Aquinas; I studied philosophy there, as well as theology and the classics.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the river bluffs nearby. The moment I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

My time at this school was reasonably well spent. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, and I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as our Patron Saint, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas in than for the conclusions that he made.

Saint Thomas bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al, and the proto-renaissance period of Western Europe, re-discovering the use of intellectual tools like such as formal logic and discursive reasoning, and re-employing them in a way that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today.

Saint Thomas was Italian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there, fully cognizant of his fame, knowing that he would become a saint of great renown, they coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, a silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

On his death bed it is reported that he gave an estimation of the value of his own contribution to the doctrine and dogma of the church, of which he said: everything is just straw.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, the same arches that I first walked through my first day on campus, two stories below the offices of the Philosophy Department. I recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God

That I may ardently desire,

Prudently examine,

Truthfully acknowledge,

And perfectly accomplish

What is pleasing to thee

For the praise and glory

Of thy name

In the year 2021 CE, seven hundred and forty-seven after the death of Saint Thomas, the world has become enmired in another kind of dark ages, which is odd and sadly ironic because the current tide of anti-rational, anti-intellectual sentiment that has griped the world has been seeded through the prevalence of digital media platforms that are in themselves a function of our mastery of light, as a means of communication.

We now find ourselves leaving in a cultural milieu that disdains the truth, scientia, science and knowledge, which undermines place of reason in public discourse.

In Western Europe the so-called dark ages are considered to have begun around the year 500 CE, with the reign of the emperor Justinian, roughly the same length of time seven hundred and fifty years after the golden age of the philosophers, and roughly seven hundred and fifty years before Saint Thomas wrote his Summa.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently ominous in the pattern I have articulated, the numbers themselves are arbitrary and it would be unreasonable to suppose otherwise. However, we would be wise to acknowledge this, the descent of darkness has a cycle all of its own. We have fallen into this before and we are susceptible to falling into it again, once we have fallen, it could take centuries to emerge back into the light.

A Homily – The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

First Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16 ©

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 88(89):2-5, 27, 29 ©

Second Reading – Romans 16:25-27 ©

Gospel Acclamation – Luke 1:38

The Gospel According to Luke 1:26 – 38 ©

(NJB)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

All people of good faith should be mindful of this:

God, the creator of the universe; God does not appoint kings.

God dwells in all places at all times, and there is no place where God is not. There is no heart that God does not speak to, no people that God does not love.

God was never confined to a tent, nor ever to a temple. God does not favor kings or their sons. God is not a royalist.

God does not speak to God’s servants in words, like the words that I write here.

Strike these ideas and the myths that perpetuate them from the sacred text, they represent the vanity of human beings and nothing more.

The sacred texts are not a good place for nationalism and jingoism.

We must reject this language wherever we find it!

God, the creator of the universe, God does not favor one person over another, one family, one tribe, one nation.

God is a God of love and mercy, not a God of palace intrigues, not a God of battles.

God, the creator of the universe, God is wise. We are each created in the divine image, and God’s wisdom resides there, like a seed, the whole is in the part.

Jesus exemplified this. He did not exemplify how faith (which means trust in the divine plan), made him obedient, but how faith (his trust in God) freed him to do what he knew in his heart was right.

God does not wish us to be servants and slaves, but partners in in the a ministry of justice and mercy.

Consider the Gospel reading for today.

Whatever the truth is regarding the birth of Jesus, known by his family Joshua son of Joseph, we may say this the way, which he preached is not served by false narratives.

The stories of Jesus’ birth, the annunciation as we have it presented here, these are myths. If we read them literally we are perpetuating propaganda and lies.

God is truth, and the way of God is not served by such prevarications.

First Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16 ©

Your House and Your Sovereignty will Always Stand Secure Before Me

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 88(89):2-5, 27, 29 ©

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;

  through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.

Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,

  that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one;

  I have sworn to David my servant:

I will establish your dynasty for ever

  and set up your throne through all ages.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

‘He will say to me: “You are my father,

  my God, the rock who saves me.”

I will keep my love for him always;

  with him my covenant shall last.’

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

Second Reading – Romans 16:25-27 ©

The Mystery is Revealed that was Kept Secret for Endless Ages

Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith. This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be. He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Acclamation – Luke 1:38

Alleluia, alleluia!

I am the handmaid of the Lord: let what you have said be done to me.

Alleluia!

The Gospel According to Luke 1:26 – 38 ©

‘I Am the Handmaid of the Lord’

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Stan Lee – Genius Creator and Mythologist

Let’s talk about Stan Lee; I cannot possibly state the significance of the debt I owe this man.

I never met him in life, but I hope to see him beyond, the Mists, past the Western Shore, on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, walking in the Green Fields.

Stan Lee colored my imagination, painting it in the ubiquitous three-color-process that was the standard format of comic books when I was a child, drawn on the cheapest—acid washed paper that money could buy.

He taught me and millions of other kids, that with great power comes great responsibility. He taught us that it is always okay to punch a Nazi, in fact, it is the duty of free people everywhere to fight against tyranny, but it is the responsibility of American’s in particular to stand up against the forces of Hate and divisive Nationalism, of Fascism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head, and he taught us to look for it in our own backyard.

Stan Lee introduced everyone who read his comics to the classical world of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus, as well as to Einstein and Heisenberg.

He showed us that the fight for civil rights included all people, and that we had better look around us, take stock of our friends, and make sure that we include in our group those people who are different from us, the marginalized and the meek.

Stan Lee schooled us that even mutants should be loved and respected and protected from the forces of a world fears them, from those who would seek to persecute them.

He told us in no uncertain terms that we should identify with them, the outcast and the disenfranchised, the alien in our midst. He insisted that we have an obligation to secure their rights, by any means necessary.

Stan Lee opened my eyes to the cosmos, through his imagination I took flight, I went surfing with the Alien, journeying through the heart of a black hole in an effort to understand the meaning of life, the nature of reality, and the purpose of existence. I

In the final analysis he told me that I had to be comfortable with the fact that there is no answer, that the galaxy and the universe itself is cold and indifferent, but that human beings don’t have to be. We do not have to follow our appetites, or be consumed by them. We are free and we have a choice. He taught us that the greatest thing we can aspire to, is to love and be loved in our turn, that friendship matters more than power, more than beauty, more than gold.

Stan Lee, was the bard of our day, overflowing with the gift to inspire; it was his super-power.

Excelsior!

Given First – 2020.11.12

Halloween – A Holiday Reflection

When I was young I imagined that Halloween was for children.

Halloween was all costumes and candy and imaginary play. It was as an escape from reality, an opportunity to gaze into another world, to pierce the veil of what is real and true.

We use to go block to block in our costumes, we called it Trick or Treating, we carried pillow cases slung over our shoulders, taking candies at nearly every door we knocked on, with nearly every bell we rang.

We scoffed at the people who only handed out little bibles or tubes of toothpaste, and shunned those who handed out home-made fare, thinking they were doing something good.

We would rather have nothing at all than have those things, and they quickly found their way into the trash; all those little popcorn balls, boxes of raisins, apples and bibles.

With fondness I recall the drill that came at the end of the night, searching through our candy piles, looking for suspicious things, open packages, search for pins and needles and razor blades.

We understood that some people hated children and would slip these into the candies.

I never found anything dangerous, never once in all of those years, but the fear that there could be, haunted us for real.

Halloween is not all fun and games, though, it has a deeper meaning than we were taught as children, and a much longer history.

Halloween is not just about ghosts and goblins and friendly witches.

In the celebration of Halloween an ages old conflict is present, a real struggle between the Christian Church, and the “Old Time Religion,” the customs of the pagans, paganus, pagani, the country folkand their persistent traditions that lurk just beneath the surface of the Christian rites.

On the Christian Calendar; Halloween is All Hallows Eve, a celebration of the honored dead, of all the saints who had passed before, who have already gone to meet the maker.

For the old pagans; whose traditions are tightly interwoven with the Church, Halloween is a celebration of the dead, plain and simple, of all of the dead, of the saints and sinners who have passed from this world together.

Halloween is an acknowledgment of the dead whose spirits walk among us still, good and bad, honored or not.

In modern times the holiday has been largely stripped from its affiliation with Christianity, celebrating the dangerous, the macabre, the frightening and the weird, those qualities and characteristics that every person hides within themselves, because they are in fear of the world.

I was fourteen the last time I went Trick or Treating, and really, I was only chaperoning my younger brother then, I was not dressed up, but I took some candy nonetheless.

In that same year I remember the Pastor at my church lamenting the popularity of the pagan festival. Believing that the Christian feast should be honored above it instead, to the exclusion of anything else.

There was no fun in that, there was no fun in him. He was just an old man watching his tradition fade away, being usurped by those of another generation, by children who were less committed to the Church than he was when at their age.   

In the years that followed, the number of children who go out in costumes seeking candy has declined by 25%, so the media outlets say.

Halloween is no longer considered safe or wholesome; it has yielded to the real dangers of the real world.

For me it is just another day, Halloween, I do not believe the dead walk with us. I have never seen a ghost, or any evidence of magic, as far as national holidays go, this one is an anomaly, though my maternal grandmother was born on this day.

There are real horrors in the world, we have a pumpkin colored demagogue for a president, spreading fear, night and day and lying to us at every turn. We are in the grip of a global Pandemic that is the claiming the life of an American citizen ever ninety seconds.

We are three days away from a national election where the prospect of reelecting this made man is all-too-real.

So now that I think about it, today of all days we should all be thankful that we have this day to luxuriate in the fantastic and the surreal.

Happy Halloween!

2020.10.31

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – Author

I learned how to read novels by reading Tolkien.

 

My mother had a beautiful edition of The Hobbit, hard bound in a green case with gold leaf and gilt pages. There were lovely illustrations in the book, and maps drawn by the author himself.

 

I pulled it off the shelf when I was in the third grade and I read it. Then I read the Lord of the Rings, followed by the Silmarillion, his Unfinished Tales edited by his son Christopher, and then a biography of the man himself.

 

Before I began to read his other works, I began to re-read those books. I read them all, many times over: eight, nine, ten times.

 

I remember a sensation I had on my third time through the Silmarillion, I experienced a heightened sense of understanding that came to me because I had become a better reader. It wasn’t just that I was re-reading the same material, but my vocabulary had expanded and I was able to comprehend more of the material.

 

The picture was filling in and the world that Tolkien created was coming to life.

 

I added his smaller lesser known works to the corpus of material I consumed, when I was still in the seventh grade I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf. These works resonated with my other reading interests, such as the collected and various tales of King Arthur, they also put me in touch with the broader tradition of the Viking sagas.

 

Then I began to read books about Tolkien and Middle Earth written or compiled by other authors, The Tolkien Companion, the New Tolkien Companion, along with various encyclopedias, bestiaries and anthologies depicting the arms and armor of Middle Earth.

 

Reading Tolkien put the idea in my head that I wanted to be a writer. Reading his work over and over again gave me a deep appreciation for the care and the craft he put into the work of devising his fantasy world.

 

Through Tolkien I came to have an early appreciation for the power of myths, their malleability, and the potential that we have as creative people to fashion our own myths and communicate them to the broader world.

 

Through his writing Tolkien dramatized the basic conflicts he saw at work in our civilization, conflicts between the bucolic and pastoral life with the forces of industry that seemed to be destroying the planet, the disasters of modern warfare and the suffering they visit on the world.

 

The collected stories of Middle Earth are a form of social criticism that is more relevant than ever in the twenty-first century.

 

Tolkien 

 

Given First – 2020.09.02