I think I might meander in a couple of directions today. This is a busy time of year, as we are coming to Spring Break at UST, and I thought I might go back through our blog archives and re-post my last St. Patrick's day blog post to save myself some time. There was a minor problem I discovered: I have not written a St. Patrick's Day post before. The busyness is related to tests and mid-term tests are on the minds of me and my students. Sin has also been on my mind. And only a little because it is St. Patrick's Day today, which is strange is it not, that a feast day of a remarkable saint should conjure up the fear of sin? As I look at my students writing about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, Hellenism and the Post-Exilic Prophets, most of them dressed in green, which is not so odd at a university founded by Bishop John Ireland, I worry that many of them will see St. Patrick's Day as a day to drink too much and put themselves and others in dangerous situations. This is not intended as blame mor criticism, as such, but more as a genuine opening of their eyes to sin. I know the reality, because I was once 21, which is precisely why I worry so much for them. Two students from our campus have died in the last two years in circumstances related to alcohol. There but for the grace of God so many of us could have gone. I like a glass of beer, or wine, or cider, or Bailey's Irish Cream even on a cold winter day, but I want my students, I want all of us, to see the misuse of alcohol for what it is: a scourge. So, yes, I think of sin on such a day and want them to know St. Patrick for who he truly is today, a missionary who despite the deeds of his captors returned to Ireland to bring them to a knowledge not only of sin, but of God's great love for all humanity and grace.
I think of sin also because the readings for the First Sunday of Lent still are circling in my mind, even a week later. The Genesis account in 2:7-9, 3:1-7 is so redolent because it captures, as it must, the stark reality of sin: a good, out of order, twisted away from God's plan for us. The Serpent's words, in whatever guise they come to us, are pleasing,
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it. (Genesis 3:4-6)
Sin is so enticing, so much fun, pleasing, desirable and such a delight when shared with others. Yet, good out of order is good lost. Our eyes are inevitably opened and clarity comes, sooner or later, that we have not gained but have lost what we desire, to be like God. There is only one answer and Paul tells of it in Romans 5:15-18:
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.
It is not only that he gave his life for us, but that it was through his model, the one man who was tempted but remained faithful and obedient to the Father and not his own will (Matthew 4:1-11), that we see the promises of sin converted into the lies they truly are. Jesus in Matthew 4:10 speaks directly and bluntly: “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” This fits with St. Patrick's mission, whose "Confessio is an account of Patrick's spiritual development and a justification of his mission, but above all it is a homage to God and thanksgiving for His grace, for having called Patrick, an unworthy sinner, to the apostolate" (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 954). This is a call that we all need to hear again and again, if not all directly to the apostolate. More than that, it fits with Jesus' own casting away of the devil, that ancient serpent, just as St. Patrick cast all the snakes out of Ireland - and no I do not care if it is a legend! This is the coming of grace, when we cast, again and again, sin aside. So let's raise a glass to St. Patrick, just one or two, and say along with Jesus, "Get away, Satan, you snake!"
John W. Martens
P.S. It would be remiss of me not to mention that our men's basketball team at UST is playing in the Division 3 NCAA Final Four tomorrow in Salem, Virginia. This is a great group of young men and coaches who represent their university with such character and dignity and I wish them the best of luck tomorrow and on Saturday! Go Tommies!
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens