Ireland in Identity Crisis?
St Patrick's Day 2009
It's strange celebrating St Patrick's Day this year. I don't think that it is the way we imagined that it used to be. In the past we were very clear about our identity. We knew who we were and we were proud of who we were. Maybe today we are going through a bit of an identity crisis. Maybe we are not as sure or as confident about who we are as we were in the past. In the past we were the surviving Irish. We were the celebrating Irish. We were the brave Irish. We were the pioneering Irish. We were the religious Irish. Often we were the poor Irish.
While some would say that this list is simply a romantic image of the past there does exist in history evidence for each of these descriptions. The Irish survived - we survived the famine. The Irish celebrated - this is not a reference to drink. Through our distinctive music and dance we had a tremendous ability to celebrate. The Irish were brave - our missionaries went through the world proclaiming Jesus Christ. The Irish were pioneering - many of our forebears emigrated and transformed the countries that they made their home. The Irish were religious - from the High Crosses to the Mass Rocks to the whispered rosary around the hearth - faith was central to our lives. The Irish were poor - many lived in poverty - many had to emigrate due to poverty. Then there was also the poverty of peace that has marked our history. So often in the past we struggled to live with each other and we struggled to live with our neighbour. This poverty of peace was our greatest wound and over the last decade or so that wound has begun to heal and we are celebrated around the world as people who can make peace. We have given hope to many places in conflict. Then last week our confidence in our peace was shaken in a most horrendous and evil way when Mark Quinsey, Patrick Asimkar and Stephen Carroll were murdered.
So today on this feast of our national saint - Patrick we need to ask are we still survivors? Are we still able to celebrate? Are we still brave? Are we still pioneering? Are we still religious? Or are we willing to allow ourselves to be gripped by poverty again - material poverty and a poverty of peace? Who are we as Irish people today and who can we be?
To answer these questions we need to look at our patron - Patrick. Patrick was not born an Irish man but he became an Irish man - probably the most famous Irish man ever. In Patrick there are two very distinctive attributes that capture what Irish at its best means. Those two things were the ability to listen to the voice of God and the ability to act in a life-giving way. You can argue that every Christian no matter where they are from should do this and that is true but history shows us that the Irish did it in a very distinctive way. We did it through our missionaries in the first millennium. We did it through the Penal Laws. We did it when we emigrated. No matter what country or city we went to the first thing that emerged was the Church. In so many ways we were life-giving. We knew the value of community. We knew the value of family. I think that we had a great awareness of our call to serve and our call to welcome. Even though much of our history was tragically scarred with fighting evidence points to the reality that our call was to be peacemakers and we could do that too and do it very well.
So at this time in history we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a bland global village where everybody is supposed to pretend that they are the same. Let us reclaim our heritage where the bodhran and the lambeg drum can beat together. In the present time let us not put on the mantle of victims where we blame everybody else for the economic situation. Let us be inspired by our forebears and especially Patrick so that we will be survivors but more than survivors - that we will be brave and pioneering and able to celebrate. But more than anything else let us be religious so that like St Patrick we can always hear the voice of God and be life-giving in all that we do. Then we will not have an identity crisis. We will be clear what it means to be truly Irish.
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