Feasting with St. Patrick

By Paul Koch

Friday is the day, Friday is the anniversary of the death of the patron saint of Ireland, and it will be amateur hour at pubs across the country. Young and old will dress up like Leprechauns, cheap beer will be dyed green and a scene that looks like a combination of Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo covered in clovers will fill the local Irish (or even non-Irish) bar. There will beads and revelry and drink specials and if you’re lucky, songs with a live band.

And at some point, I’ll find myself right in the midst of the foolishness that is Saint Patrick’s Day.

You see, there is a beauty and even a romance to local pubs. I’ve found that they are places of welcome and conversation and debate. But they have a life and liturgy all their own. There are movements and seasons to a pub, some are sad and somber others are full of rejoicing and celebration. They can be both places of great responsibility for our fellow man and places of utter hedonism and often they can seemingly do both at the same time. The pub is the ongoing commentary about the human situation, not just there for us to examine and decipher but to engage with and struggle with – to sing and cry and celebrate.

I’m not even sure what it is we celebrate on the Feast of St. Patrick. I don’t think any of those seated next to me on the barstool will be toasting to the successful conversion of Ireland to Christianity. They might remember the legend about the snakes, but not too much about the paganism he fought against. I think most probably know that the celebration here in America is vastly different from that in Ireland but I don’t think many care about being culturally accurate in their feasting. They just want to have a good feast.

From the outside, you may see all this as foolish. You may easily and willingly classify the partakers of the feast as drunkards and hypocrites who use it as another excuse to just get hammered, and perhaps you’d be right. But such a conclusion can only come from the outside, away from the rich context of the lives of the people who will gather in the pub on St. Patrick’s Day.

Upon closer examination, if you find yourself in the midst of the crowd raising your glass with them and talking about life and love and sorrow you may just find something quite different than alcoholic escapism. You will find that many who gather come with a longing desire for a celebration that they find so lacking in their lives. They come to not be alone but instead find some joy to being packed in three deep at the bar just to get a beer. They come looking for a reason to smile and laugh out loud. They come to raise their glass and make a toast even though they don’t know why they are doing it. They come to be part of the feast and I think that is something we can all appreciate.

The longing to be part of the feast ought to find a sympathetic ear in the Christian Church. The household of the faithful centers on feasting. We participate in a feast of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ as a foretaste of the feast to come. That’s right, we feast in preparation for an even bigger feast! We long for this feast, we pray for the feast to come, we speak the Words of life into each other’s ears so that we might endure until the dawn of that great feast. And on that day, we will see all those gathered at the feast. You might even find yourself lifting up your glass with St. Patrick himself as together we drink deep of the eternal gifts of our Lord.

Until that day we celebrate our lesser feasts with each other. We break bread and feed upon the very gifts of life around our Lord’s table. We feast with our family and friends on holidays and at times of celebration. And perhaps, you just may wander out to your local pub on Friday night and step into a feast of a world longing for something more. Their liturgy may be lesser than the church’s but it’s not without value or reason; to learn it is to learn part of the fears, hopes and longings of your neighbor. To learn that is to begin the process of proclaiming the wonders of a feast without end.