There is something about the month of March – named after the Roman god of war – that definitely indicates change. Momentous change did come two thousand years ago through a most gentle woman saying ‘Yes’ to an angelic proposition.
Any other woman in her right mind would have dismissed this Call out of hand. The beautiful, simple prayer of the Angelus tells the Story of New Creation celebrated on March 25th, the Feastday of the Annunciation.
“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary – and she conceived of the Holy Ghost (Spirit)”.
On this most blessed of occasions, the Angel Gabriel descended from heaven with a request from God. Gabriel bypassed the forts and castles of the rich and winged his way through the luscious valley of Esdrelon – near Mounts Hermon and Carmel in Galilee – to a humble dwelling in Nazareth, ancestral home of Mary, fiancée of the carpenter, Joseph.
Mary was alone at prayer when the angel visited. What a powerful God-magnet must have been her spiritual life to receive the honour of being the woman to carry the long awaited Saviour. Their dialogue inspired another, perhaps the most repeated of any Christian prayer, the Hail Mary, Ave Maria.
There is a term in Ireland for one who is seen to be there for all – a ‘walking saint’. Saint Joseph, whose feast day occurs on the 19th, was very nearly another kind of ‘walking’ saint. On hearing Mary’s startling news, he was tempted to walk away and live elsewhere to save her reputation. He also accepted the Message of the Holy Spirit and stayed by her to become the better type of ‘walking saint’.
Bearing in mind the documented ancestry of Jesus, it is fitting that the month of His Incarnation should commence with the feast day of Saint David. The yellowcross- on-black flag of this patron saint of Wales will, no doubt, be flown proudly in that territory on March 1st.
People often wonder why St. David’s Cross does not, as a rule, occupy a share of the Union Flag incorporating the Crosses of Saints George, Andrew and Patrick. Apparently Wales, at the time of the original Union of England and Scotland in 1606, was already combined with England as a principality. The St. Patrick’s Cross – red diagonal on white – was added in 1801 and is very evident on the insignia of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Apart from his own ‘confessio’ and Letter to Coroticus – the latter protesting about slave traders – there is relatively little known about the early life of our patron saint – and not much of his later life, either. It is widely agreed that the teenage Patricius – and possibly two of his sisters, Lubaid and Tighris – were taken by an Irish raiding party from Bonaventum Taburniae, a Romanised town which may have been in Wales, the North of England or even Strathclyde. Wherever the actual location, Patrick and his siblings had been brought up in a Christian environment, their grandfather, Potitus, a presbyter and their father, Calpornius, a deacon. Their mother, Concessa, was of Frankish origin and possibly related to Saint Martin of Tours.
As the English language would not be established for almost another millennium, Patrick probably spoke Latin with a northern English or Welsh accent. Perhaps one could say that he became a delayed ‘invasion’ of the ill-fated – and almost extinct – Roman Empire. The locals of Sliabh Mish must have been quite intrigued!
When Patrick was inspired to return to Ireland, it is perhaps fortunate that he did not cross paths with his predecessor, Palladius. This missionary, reputed to have founded three churches in the County Wicklow region, did not get on too well with the local dignitaries. According to the Chronicle of the Saint Prosper of Aquitane, Palladius, not wishing to spend a long time in a foreign and unreceptive country, decided to return home, dying on his way through Scotland at Fordaun near Aberdeen.
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day – to a large extent – has descended into an excuse to break whatever Lenten denials some of us attempt to observe. Infernal secularism has grown a somewhat shoddy drinking culture – with all of its pitfalls – around the celebration. Hopefully more will come to realise, someday, that the same Holy Spirit who inspired Mary to say ‘Yes’ to God’s Messenger, Gabriel, also inspired Patrick to return as missionary to this land of his enslavement.