Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy St. Oliver Plunkett Day

Today is the feast day of St. Oliver Plunkett, the last Irish person to be made a saint (I think that's correct), and the last Catholic to be martyred in England.

I never pray to him. I wondered today why that is. I mentally apologised to him and promised to add him to my list of intercessors.

For such a famously pious country, Ireland has very few saints-- in the last thousand and something years, anyway. (We have millions of them from back in the days of saints by acclamation.) Not only that, but we don't make much of the saints we actually have. When do you ever hear anyone talking about St. Patrick, other than March 17th? Why is his statue in so few Irish churches, or anywhere else? We have lots of institutions and sports teams and churches named after him, but the syllables "St. Patrick's" or "St. Pat's" just roll off the tongue, without us ever thinking of the man himself.

Irish Catholics seem more drawn to non-Irish saints like St. Padre Pio and St. Therese of Liseux. Of course, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with a devotion to those saints-- you can't have too many saints in your life-- but it's a pity we overlook our own. Matt Talbot and Frank Duff, though not yet saints, are rare examples of modern Irish holy people who are venerated in their own country. Catherine McCauley, Nano Nagle, Hugh O'Flaherty and Edmund Rice are all household names, but there isn't (unless I'm mistaken) much of a cult in Ireland for any of them. (It's nice to get a chance to use that word in its proper sense. Next time someone tells you that Catholicism is a cult, just cheerfully reply, 'yep'. That will confuse them.)

But back to saints. I went to a Dominican school run by nuns, and Edel Quinn's picture was everywhere. So I've always felt a certain connection to her for that reason-- and, yes, her good looks help. (Don't tell me looks don't influence a saint's reputation. I think it would be naive to think that Pierre's Giorgi Frassati's popularity is entirely uninfluenced by his movie-star looks.)

But, in general, I share the strange lukewarmness towards our own Catholic past that is so common amongst Irish people, and even Irish Catholics. Why is this, I wonder? Is it too close to home? I have to admit-- with apologies to the memory of that saint-- that even the syllables "Oliver Plunkett" make me think of dilipidated housing estates, drizzle, salty cabbage, wispy moustaches, pimply schoolboys, red whiskey noses, emaciated ponies, and all the least pleasant associations of Irishness. (OK, pimply schoolboys are universal, and I was an impressively pimpled schoolboy myself. But somehow they seem especially Irish. Our unease with the human body seems to heighten things like that.)

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