THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Great blessings belong to those who don’t listen to evil advice, who don’t live like sinners, and who don’t join those who make fun of God. Instead, they love the Lord’s teachings and think about them day and night. So they grow strong, like a tree planted by a stream—a tree that produces fruit when it should and has leaves that never fall. Everything they do is successful. [Psalm 1:1-3 (ERV)]

wood sorrel - shamrockTomorrow we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and I’m inclined to think the revered bishop who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century wouldn’t recognize this day in his honor. A once religious feast is now a day of parades, sales, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts, corned beef and cabbage, music, dancing, and lots of green (including the Chicago River, milk shakes, and kegs of beer.) St. Patrick, however, would recognize the common symbol of this day: the shamrock. Of course, to Patrick, with its three leaflets bound by a common stem, the shamrock was a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. Those three leaflets also came to symbolize faith, hope, and love; luck is said to come only if a fourth leaflet is present.

We usually think “the luck of the Irish” means good fortune. Yet, it’s hard to see how a people who were invaded by Vikings, suppressed at the hand of England, suffered a potato famine, failed at every revolution, and were treated like third class citizens upon their arrival in the U.S. could be called “lucky.” According to Edwin T. O’Donnell of Holy Cross College, it originally was a demeaning phrase dating back to the 19th century. During the silver and gold rush days, some of the most successful miners were Irish or Irish/American. Saying a miner’s success was “the luck of the Irish” meant that it was mere happenstance and had nothing to do with the hours of drudgery he endured, the danger he faced, the sacrifices he made, the loneliness he suffered, or his skill with a pick and shovel.

A young mother in our small group told of her daughter’s recent school assignment in which the girl and her parents were to paste pictures of the things that made them lucky on a large green construction paper shamrock. A woman of faith, she didn’t want to be one of those parents who make a mountain out of every molehill encountered in public school. Nevertheless, she credits God (not luck) with their blessings so she and her daughter pondered how to proceed with the assignment in a way that honors God. They pasted photos of their family on their “Lucky Family” shamrock and then wrote these words: “No luck involved! We are blessed by the grace of God to be a happy family!”

Attributing their happy family to luck would be as insulting to God as “just Irish luck” was to a successful miner who’d struggled in difficult circumstances to stake his claim. That shamrock, however, does symbolize the things that enable their family to happily live with joy, peace, forgiveness, and confidence: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who govern and fill their lives. Moreover, the happiness of their family has much to do with their faith, hope and love (both for God and for one another). There was no”lucky” fourth leaflet on that shamrock. Indeed, luck has nothing to do with it; God, however, does!

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ERV)]

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