St Patrick’s Day has become more of a secular celebration than a religious one. The ‘St’ is often dropped and the horrible ‘Paddy’s Day’ has accelerated the process. And yet the spiritual side has co-existed, happily or uneasily.
It’s always open to Christians to celebrate the spiritual side and ensure that in their families due regard and respect is given – this often manifests as going to church in the morning, attending parades in the afternoon and having a few drinks at night. And so, Mass for St Patrick’s Day (RTÉ One) that morning – came, appropriately, from St Patrick’s Church in Wicklow town. The music, both choral and trad was excellent, while the homily of Fr Donal Roche PP was very positive, even while regretting that the sacred and the secular weren’t as much in harmony as they used to be. The opening sequence was informative – we learned that when St Patrick originally landed in Wicklow the locals chased him away with stones!
St Patrick’s Festival Parade (RTÉ One) followed shortly after. The festival’s choice of the snake as its emblem had an unpleasant and telling significance. Karen Walshe, artistic director of the festival, referenced the planet, the environment, “mythical goddesses” and “Disney friends” but not a word about the saint of the day or Christianity. There was the obligatory appearance of drag queen Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill) – giving off a very different vibe to the one previously regarded as ‘Queen of Ireland’. I’m uneasy with media driven self-congratulation for the shiny new Ireland – the shine is on the surface only.
The Late Late Show (RTÉ One) usually features plenty of this back slapping and last Friday’s show was pretty much as expected – plenty of trad music and local celebrities, finery and greenery. The opening shots of a monastic ruin was another telling metaphor, but the musical clips from around the world in the opening sequence were entertaining. I found parade grand marshal, soccer coach Vera Pauw, and American actor Patrick Duffy (Dallas!) quite engaging, while the recorded interview with Liam Neeson was pleasantly low-key – the actor was quite modest about his achievements and his craft, didn’t like the over-commercialisation of the day, especially in the USA where he lives, and in the face of this, he said, he just says a prayer to St Patrick. Patrick Duffy was the only other guest I heard talking (very briefly) about prayer or the actual saint of the day. In the celebration of all things Irish great praise was heaped on Derry Girls, as writer Lisa McGee was present. From the few episodes I saw I found it frequently funny and often touching, but the foul language was gratuitous and off-putting, and as regards religion there were insights but also insults. More impressive was the Derry girl celebrated on Songs of Praise (BBC One, Sunday) – we heard about the inspiring life of Sr Clare Crockett from her sisters Megan and Shauna – from “wild child” to religious sister who died, age 33, in the Ecuador earthquake of 2016, serving her young students to the end.
On News in Depth (EWTN, Friday) the question posed was: ‘Is Ireland Still Catholic?’ Colm Flynn’s report started with trad music in a west of Ireland pub and broadened out into a useful exploration. A vox pop found people who had drifted – one young man said he considered himself Catholic but didn’t practice – “I don’t have time!” Another man blamed the scandals for his agnosticism. As with the previous programme, monastic ruins served as a metaphor, but there were signs of vibrant faith too, with faith-filled young people from Youth 2000 and the Holy Family Mission in Waterford getting their say – a perspective usually ignored in secular media, even when religious issues are discussed.
Fr Owen Gorman found there was less emphasis now on ritual and more on social justice, more of the horizontal and less of the vertical – but it struck me that when you give weight to both you have the shape of the cross. Fr Gorman thought the Church was low on energy, an “old army” in need of youthful vigour. Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore reckoned we were more devotional in the past, but wondered how deep that was, theologically.
He did have hope however – in the end it always came down to personal holiness and being authentic disciples of Jesus.
PICK OF THE WEEK
Sunday Morning Live
BBC One Sunday March 26, 10.30am
Sean Fletcher and Holly Hamilton get to the heart and soul of the issues of the day. Last episode in current series.
Film: Fiddler on The Roof
RTÉ One Sunday March 26, 2.15pm
(1971) In pre-revolutionary Russia, a Jewish peasant with traditional values contends with marrying off three of his daughters with modern romantic ideals and has interesting chats with God, as growing anti-Semitic sentiment threatens his village.
Walk Softly With God
EWTN Sunday March 26, 10pm
A glimpse into the lives of pilgrims who travel to Lough Derg where St Patrick’s Purgatory, a pilgrimage site on Station Island, sits on the lake.