Episode #24: Say it like St. Patrick
and call out evil when you see it.
I am neither Irish nor Catholic, but I live in an east coast city and stand witness every March to a cavalcade of green-shirted humans enjoying life, sometimes while stumbling across the pavement, in celebration of a connection to St. Patrick. To some that connection is simply to the color green and to others their connection is to a tall pint of cheap beer.
I was curious what lies beyond the green shirts and beer. Who was St. Patrick?
What did he do that makes him a saint, and is there anything about his story that might hold interest to readers who are interested in having better outcomes from the conflicts they have in their lives?
Turns out, there is a lot to learn from the example of St. Patrick.
The story goes that St. Patrick is remembered for bringing Christianity to Ireland, which at that time practiced a polytheistic (many gods) religion closely tied to nature and the sprig laden earth. In his attempt to explain the notion of the trinity (a God, a son, and a spirit) to the Celts of Ireland, St. Patrick picked up a three-leaf clover to show how the trinity is one singular thing (one plant) made up of three individual parts (three petals). And that is the reason why we associate the clover (aka, shamrock) with St. Patrick’s day. Have fun explaining that to someone on their third-or-fourth celebratory pint! ☘️
More specific to the ideas of productive conflict, we can draw from the actual surviving words that St. Patrick wrote and which survive to this day.
The first surviving text written by St. Patrick, Confessio, talks about his journey and life. In a second text, Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, St. Patrick denounces the soldiers of a British chieftain-king named Coroticus who
mistreated (i.e., killed and kidnapped, in medieval-speak) their Irish brethren (i.e., other Christians).
From the Letters there’s a lesson we can all take away whatever faith we follow. Here is the 9th section from that letter, translated from Latin by John Skinner:
It would take too long to discuss or argue every single case, or to sift through the whole of the Law for precise witness against such greed. Sufficient to say, greed is a deadly deed. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods. You shall not murder. A homicide may not stand beside Christ. Even "He who bates his brother is to be labeled murderer." Or, "He who does not love his brother dwells in death." therefore how much more guilty is he, who has stained his own hands in the blood of the sons of God, those very children whom only just now he has won for himself in this distant land by means of our feeble encouragement. Rom. 13:9 Exod. 20:13, 17 I Jn. 3:15, 14
What I like about this section of the letter is St. Patrick’s exhaustion with the violence that occurred against his flock. He knows in his heart that “greed is bad” and what he sees is enough for him to call out the greedy bastards who killed and kidnaped people he just recently baptized. He knows that something evil was done, and rather than write out a long list of injustices, sifting through rules and regulations, and getting locked down in the mire of “every single case,” he simply calls out what was wrong and asks people (the soldiers of the aggressor) to avoid associating with anyone who perpetuates what he knows in his heart to be bad, if not outright evil.
The lesson we can take here is this: if we know in our heart of hearts that something wrong is going on, silence only serves to perpetuate that evil.
By naming bad behavior as such, and calling upon the people who give that behavior life, you can introduce conflict into the situation that attempts to rectify what we know is sufficiently not good.
In your own life, when you hear, see, or sense something that is ethically against what you practice, preach the gospel of productive conflict and challenge those actions. It may not make you a saint but it might help to create a world that is a little bit more just.
St. Patrick wrote a letter and asked people to distribute it. While I’m no saint, this blog is a collection of letters, and I hope that if you ever read one you find useful, you will share it as well. 🍻