St. Patrick’s on St. Patrick’s

laoflw-stpatrick-insideSt. Patrick’s Day has never been a holiday I paid much attention to. I don’t have any Irish heritage. I don’t like green beer. I’m not the biggest fan of corned beef, and am really not a fan of cabbage. I don’t really like parades either. It’s a bit lost on me. And, despite having lived in New York for most of my adult life, it never occurred to me to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day. So today I ventured into midtown to do just that.

It was a little bit ironic that during Mass I could hear the drums and bagpipes from the parade marching down 5th Avenue, and that in order to even get into the church I had to wade through rowdy groups of people looking for a party in the afternoon who chose the Cathedral as a meeting point. I have to imagine this is one of the busier days of the year for St. Patrick’s, but it was still a very personal experience, even with crowds of tourists roaming through the Cathedral, looking on in wonder during Mass.

I do have a soft spot for Ireland and Irish culture, even if it’s not my own to claim. I had the privilege of traveling around Ireland a few years ago with a friend, where we were able to visit St. Patrick’s in Dublin. It is a gorgeous building, built in the 16th Century, of the style with gravestones in the floors and walls, and bust of notable patrons and figures about. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, is buried here, and his death mask is also on display (for those of you who don’t know, a death mask is exactly what it sounds like; back then there was a rather morbid tradition of making plaster masks of people’s faces after they died).

During my visit in Dublin, several priests were about the foyer, greeting visitors and as ready to answer questions as any tour guides. It was a very welcoming experience, just like today’s more festive visit. Ironically, in the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin isn’t Catholic, but Church of Ireland. Many medieval Irish churches are actually Protestant because of the English Reformation.

Today in New York, while there was nothing quite comparable to the hubbub going on 5th Ave, the homily was about St. Patrick, who was not himself Irish but traveled to Ireland to bring the people to God. This year is actually 1,550 years since the death of St. Patrick, which might not compete with the pomp of the 250th anniversary of the parade. At the heart of the homily, and of St. Patrick’s dedication, was the message to keep the faith, to not lose sight of why we celebrate his feast. It was a bit like the homily you would get at Christmas, a reminder of the true spirit of the season.