I can write this because I'm Irish. Or, more precisely, half-Irish. (My dad's family hails from County Wexford, if you're curious.)
Anyway, here goes: Put St. Patrick back in St. Patrick's Day.
Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't fish around in your closet for your favorite Irish sweater on March 17; or that you shouldn't wear that shamrock tie you use only once a year; or that you shouldn't march in the big parade downtown; or that you shouldn't tuck into corned beef and cabbage with gusto; or that you shouldn't hoist a few green beers with your pals at a local Irish pub; or that you shouldn't scarf down green cupcakes, green milkshakes, or green anything, for that matter. Nor am I telling New York to cancel its parade (or Boston or Philadelphia). Nor am I pleading with Chicago to stop dyeing its river green (which, when you see it in person, is pretty amazing).
You don't have to stop any of that.
But do this: remember why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. It's because of, well, St. Patrick.
Some of the forgetfulness surrounding the feast of Ireland's patron saint reminds me of the secularization of Christmas. You know: all those ads where people run around in red and green sweaters and decorate trees without daring to breathe the word Christmas. Macy's this year had a memorable Christmas slogan: "A million reasons to believe!" Oh yeah? In what?
With St. Patrick's Day the stakes are decidedly lower: the Son of God versus a guy who supposedly drove the snakes out of Ireland. (And he didn't even do that, scholars say. There weren't any to begin with.) But what is lost in both holidays is the same: the astonishing story that gave rise to the religious feast in the first place.
Because St. Patrick was, in short, an amazing guy. He offers Christians important lessons about forgiveness and love. And he offers everyone else some lessons, too.
James Martin, SJ