The snakes are back in Ireland. Folklore tells us that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland in his day. Ireland, mainly because of its climate and detachment from the mainland has no native snake species. But that didn't stop people from importing them and keeping them as pets. And as we are seeing happen in Florida so too in Ireland, the fascination with these reptiles fades and people tend to get tired of taking care of them, they grow too large, become too expensive to care for or they escape their cages and these former pets start showing up in the wild and not so wild places. Unicorns make much better pets.
The tales of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is certainly more metaphorical than historical. The ancient foe, the Satan is depicted in the Bible as a serpent. What St. Patrick drove out was nothing less than the ancient foe of paganism and the superstitious and often inhuman practices that accompanied it. Unfortunately, that ancient foe of paganism has returned to the Emerald Isle with a vengeance. The wholesale rejection of Christianity and Catholicism in particular is pretty stunning in Ireland. Ireland had gone from being the most Catholic nation in Europe (along with Malta) to the least Catholic in less than a generation. (I don't mean to pick on the Irish as the Italians are not too far behind them.) At this point it seems that every belief is welcome in Ireland except Christianity. What happened to the land where “in the lilt of Irish laughter you can hear the angels sing”? The Church in Ireland has become a bit like the ghost of Molly Malone.
The Irish were the last holdouts when it came to legalizing abortion. But sadly, they got talked into being just like the rest of us. What a betrayal of their history. I always thought that small little Ireland had an outsized influence on the rest of the world. Now they have given that role up. The Irish were at their best when they stood up to the rest of the world. Think how long they withstood the British and at what a cost. Or during what we call the Dark Ages, when Europe was in constant turmoil, the Irish built monasteries where monks kept safe Western literature and learning and, in the process, produced an enormously large number of saints. So much so it became known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. While the rest of Europe was plunged into darkness and disorder, the Irish built a strong civilization whose heart was the Gospel. And then Irish missionaries exported their faith and culture all over the world.
There are probably many reasons to point to for the collapse of the Church in Ireland such as clericalism or the speed of secularization in our day. But the far biggest reason was the long-term alliance between Church and state or more precisely an unbecoming alliance with the hierarchy and political power. While Ireland was never a theocracy, the influence of the Catholic Church was very dominant. When the Kingdom of God becomes too cozy with the Kingdom of this world the Church always loses. I admit it’s all so dazzling: if you have all this temporal power you can accomplish so much good, right? But eventually you will have to bow down and worship it, such is the Devil’s bargain. Let’s be grateful for the separation of Church and state which has prevented the US Church from going down this road.
How ironic that the Irish missionaries came to the America’s in droves to help establish the Church on this side of the pond and now we are sending missionaries to them. And it wasn't all that long ago. Our former pastor, Msgr. McCready was one of the many priests who came from Ireland to Arizona, which was still mission territory, when there were very few priests here and way too many in Ireland. That was in 1955 and Msgr. McCready is deceased less than 20yrs. Which shows you how quickly things have changed in Ireland. The luck of the Irish has certainly run out.
The legend is that when St. Patrick was making a 40 day fast, snakes attacked him and so he drove them all into the sea. The Irish Church has lately become a bit like the cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, it has lost its nerve. The Church on the Emerald Isle needs to find its way back to the Emerald City and rediscover that the Gospel of Jesus Christ still has the power to defeat the ancient serpent. Jesus Christ is still Lord of the Dance.
Still, Erin go Bragh. St. Patrick pray for us.
Fr. John B.