To Catholics in the Anglosphere – especially in Ireland and the United States – today’s feast day is something of a mark of the faith. As a Michigander I’m blessed to see the grocery stores in my area start selling St. Patrick cupcakes three weeks ago. Besides the Polish paczkis for Fat Tuesday, St. Patrick’s is one of the few Catholic holidays still showing some Catholic custom in the local economy in my community.
In something of a twist of God’s Providence, the Irish came to these United States as slaves, refugees or just dirt poor. The Anglos of these United States were hostile to them from centuries of religious and ethnic animus.
Yet they won the hearts of their enemies just the same, and bestowed on these United States some spirit of the faith – through St. Patrick.
The Irish who came to this land of immigrants were already brutally persecuted by the Anglican regime since the tyrant Henry VIII seized the lands of the poor and the heretics attempted in vain to root out the faith from the Irish soil and the Irish soul.
But the sons of Pádraig rose up with their merry fighting spirit and refused to accept the heretical Mass and the Anglican regime. They chose secret Low Masses in a forest to the Anglican “smells and bells” in the beautiful Catholic cathedrals that the heretics seized, tearing down the images of Our Lady and the Saints.
Hundreds of years of persecution followed. The sons of Pádraig went merrily on fighting. The Uprising of 1641 was, to my knowledge, the last just war officially blessed by ecclesiastical authority (readers can correct me if I’m wrong here).
It was these fighting Irish who came to these United States when the dreaful an Gorta Mór fell upon them, in the inscrutable Providence of God’s wrath. Some were sent by the US government to invade Catholic Mexico, against which some rebelled and died as martyrs for Christendom rather than perpetrate an unjust war against their Hispanic brethren (the famous San Patricos brigade, pictured above, the largest mass execution by the US government in history, it is said).
Sometimes among Catholics in my nation – especially Trads – the Irish get a bad rap because most of their hierarchy – led by Cardinal James Gibbons – sided against the German immigrants on the question of “Americanism.” This is a justified critique which I have leveled myself elsewhere.
Yet on St. Patrick’s day in these United States, many citizens here can see something of the Irish Catholic spirit that the Germans simply failed to impart.
It’s that merry, fighting spirit.
I myself am an Anglo-speaking son of Flanders. My ancestors came to Ellis island through England, France and Ireland, but my deeper roots – spiritually at least – is in the Army of Flanders – the international vanguard led by the great Spanish tercios against the heretical Dutch revolt. There’s great Spanish piety in the fighting spirit of this Army of Flanders, dedicated under the banner of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, thanks to the Miracle of Empel.
This gallantry is shown in the great La rendición de Breda as painted by my favorite Baroque painter, Diego Velázquez. This great work depicts the honourable surrender of the heretics, while the Catholic general Ambrogio Spinola receives this surrender with the chivalry of Christian knighthood.
Yet as non-Irishman and a Michigander, I have always looked at the Irish fighting spirit as something of an inspiration. There is something in the Irish – no doubt the mystery of nature and divine grace in the Gospel first proclaimed by the British Roman, Patricius (St. Patrick) – which built this people to stand and fight – joyfully – and forgive their enemies and win their hearts.
I saw something of this merry fighting spirit in the piece by Seán Dartraighe, “A Young Irishman Smiles at Traditionis Custodes.”
This piece should be read again and again by Trads, especially in these United States. This is the merry fighting spirit we need as Trads to endure the fight for the ancient Roman Rite with full confidence in God’s Providence.
To fight joyfully with the power of the cross.
To forgive our enemies and win them over to our side.
To speak these words of Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago to the bishops handing down unjust decrees and wicked priests who want to destroy the liturgy, when they were about to be thrown in the fiery furnace:
Behold our God, whom we worship, is able to save us from the furnace of burning fire, and to deliver us out of thy hands, O king. But if he will not, be it known to thee, O king, that we will not worship thy gods, nor adore the golden statue which thou hast set up (Dan. iii. 16-17).
Or what St. Paul said when he faced death daily:
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Rom. xiv. 8).
We must take joy in the fight. This is the Irish fighting spirit. Let’s take some of this spirit today as we toast to the great St. Patrick, in many ways the father of the faith in these United States, our beloved Éire, and to a great degree, the soul of the Catholic anglosphere.
Painting: Los San Patricios, by Pino Cacucci (2015).
Timothy S. Flanders earned a BA in Greek and Latin from Grand Valley State University in 2010 with special studies in history, writing and Arabic. As a result of his studies, he converted from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy and began working in education among ages Kindergarten to adult. He then pursued a Masters’ Degree in Christian history and theology with the Catholic University of Ukraine. In 2013, as a result of further searching, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after Pope Francis was elected. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. In 2021, he became the editor-in-chief of the online journal, OnePeterFive. He is the author of three books: Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics, City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present and When the Gates of Hell Prevail: What Catholics Do in Dark Times, as well as a forthcoming book about Eastern Orthodoxy, published by St. Paul Center. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.