By Father Tom Hurley
Sunday, March 25th, 2018
I know it’s Palm Sunday and in this column I should immediately be focused on the Triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the Passion of our Lord BUT for a few quick sentences I’m hoping you’ll let me do just a little “venting” in the aftermath of St. Patrick’s Day. As I wrote last week in this publication, despite all the work, anxiety, and preparations that go into the “high holy days” of St. Patrick’s Day, I really do love it. I appreciate the celebration of Patrick and I love everything about the Irish saints and the mysteries of faith shared with our ancestors who, in turn, brought that wonderful heritage to our immigrant shores. I love the music and the pride of the Irish. I love the magnificent ways we have creatively shared the richness of Irish culture through our annual Siamsa Na nGael concert. I love the Irish dancers and the Shannon Rovers. I love our choir and the hours of rehearsals they log in order to fill our sanctuary with celtic tones. I love our staff and all of the many volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure our several hundred visitors on parade day are showered with the best of Old St. Pat’s hospitality. I love the kaleidoscope of colors and the celtic knotting that draws us into the mystery of creation, helping us be mindful of God’s presence and God’s desire to breathe life into us. How blessed and fortunate are we to have this extraordinary sanctuary to pray in each day.
So what’s my venting moment? In the interest of full disclosure, I probably spend too much time on Twitter and Instagram and last week was no exception. I thought last weekend was magnificent: our civic mass went well, the parade was festive, there were loads of people in downtown Chicago, and the sun was shining brilliantly.
By Saturday night, after a full day of activities, I finally arrived home and as I was sitting on the couch both watching the news and scrolling through Twitter, I couldn’t believe what I found. For all the beauty and significance of this annual festive moment honoring the life and sacrifice of this ancient Missionary who brought the faith to Ireland, the only story I could find receiving top billing on all of our local stations was about one thing: the dyeing of the river green!?!?? Huh? The pictures dominating Instagram last Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, were countless photos of people standing on the banks of the Green Chicago River. Besides coverage of politicians at the parade in pre-election mode, that was pretty much it. If you knew nothing else, one would think that the river and the parade are what define this feast day in honor of St. Patrick. Oh I realize that making a 5th century saint is not exactly the top story for the 10:00 p.m. news in 2018, but what about this historic church and the many other places of worship that literally suspend our season of Lent for a couple of days in order to honor the one for whom we have this holiday in the first place? Not wanting to sound overly critical, but where was the religious significance of this moment? Isn’t that more important than a batch of chemicals being sifted into a river to make it turn green? One friend of mine who I ran into at a party benefiting the great mission of Misericordia actually used the “S” word with me as we were commenting on the large crowds and the incredible energy being poured into the St. Patrick’s Day “weekend” each year: secularization. I told him: say it ain’t so! Has St. Patrick’s Day been hijacked for the purpose of partying, liquor sales, and buying all things green and goofy? Rick Kogan wrote an article in the Chicago Tribune last week pondering the same kind of question. I recommend you read it.
While I don’t want to nourish my soul on sour grapes, as the pastor of the shrine dedicated to this missionary to the Irish people, the events of last week just have given me a moment to pause. Are we losing the religious significance of St. Patrick’s Day? I cringe just typing those words. Is spending time watching a river turn green more important than the brilliant, beautiful prayer we lifted up together last Saturday and Sunday in this holy place?
Likewise, welcome to Holy Week. Palm Sunday and the days to come this week define who we are as a Christian people. They defined St. Patrick and why he dedicated his life to the preaching of the Gospel. I hope you will not only carve out time in your busy life to be here for some of the many services this week, but I also hope you will invite someone else to join you, especially someone you may know who might be drifting away from the faith. These are special, holy days that renew us in this identity. Many people are working hard to make sure those who come into our sanctuary are nourished in prayer, showered with hospitality, and renewed in soul. I hope you will be among them.
Thank you for being here on this Palm Sunday. May it truly be a Holy and Renewing Week for all of us and may the Paschal Mystery guide us with Hope through all the dying and risings of our lives.
Father Tom Hurley