Address to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick
"As the Irish have shared their spirit, we must share our goods -- because we have the goods to spare. We must reject the selfish lie that our economy will recover by hoarding for ourselves, by holding sustenance from others. The world is one lifeboat in a sea of stars; there is no cause for joy if our end is sound while the other end is sinking."
Your Eminence Cardinal Manning, Governor Brown, Mayor Bradley, Irishmen named Kelley, O’Rourke, and Callahan -- and my fellow Irishmen, who are named Schultz, Cavelli, and Marcovitz:
Though my ancestors were German, I think I have the right to claim that I’m Irish. I have an Irish wife. I have an army of Irish in-laws. My five children tell everyone they’re Irish. My parish priest is Irish. And something I’ll bet most of you can’t say -- my accountant is Irish, too; the books may not be balanced, but they’re beautifully written. My liquor cabinet is even stocked with Jameson’s. I have had the burdens, so I think I deserve the benefits of being Irish -- at least on St. Patrick’s day. One of those benefits is to raise a cup and drink a few.
The Irish are the greatest distillers of whiskey in the history of the world. And they’d all be millionaires if they did the bottling before the drinking.
Another benefit is the right to wear something green.
I understand that Bob Hope celebrates St. Patrick’s day by wearing his money. Of course, John McKay puts on something orange – and Bear Bryant just breaks down and cries.
Even the White House has recognized St. Patrick’s day. While they haven’t declared it a national holiday, they have seen to it that all of us carry a little green in our wallets -- very little.
And while everyone claims to be Irish on this date, the Irish make some fantastic claims, too:
For example, St. Patrick was a bishop and a celibate ... which is rather strange since every Irishman claims to be his descendant.
And regardless of how anyone else sees Michaelangelo’s painting of the Last Supper the Irish see 11 apostles in a Notre Dame uniform and the other apostle wearing a Southern Cal jersey.
The Irish are also superb politicians. In fact, maybe the perfect politician would be a combination of Ted Kennedy’s charisma, Pat Moynihan’s ideas, Mayor Daley’s election day operation and John Tunney’s teeth.
Los Angeles is a very Irish city. Your brown hills are about as high as Ireland’s green hills. Your La Brea tar pits look like Ireland’s peat bogs. And even your mayor has an Irish last name.
It’s also good to see Jerry Brown again. He has a tough job. It’s not easy to fill the shoes of your predecessor when you don’t have two right feet.
So again we come to the celebration of St. Patrick’s day, the commemoration of a missionary who lived more than a millennium ago, the renewal of a spirit which has survived that time, the distempers of war and famine, and the tides of immigration and exile. Yet surely we should wonder why we are happy to recall a history so wracked with anguish, so stained with innocent blood.
God’s answer to Job is one answer -- that those he loves, he allows to suffer, for in suffering there is the perfection of the soul. Just as men cannot be brave in battle without the coming of conflict, so a people cannot be a tempered race without the testing of adversity. We may not comprehend a meaning at the moment; we mourn the maiming of body, the mutilation of justice; yet later, as we look back, we sense - even if we cannot say precisely -- the purpose of the passage.
And more, we turn to that heritage to be taught by it, to take strength for this hour and hereafter. Listen to Yeats: “Let us not casually reduce that great past to a trouble of fools, for we need not feel the bitterness of the past to discover its meaning for the present and the future.”
A spark amid darkness, hope even in despair, the affirmation of life in the presence of death, faith when others apostatize, a fight for the right against the odds -- these are the grace and the gift of Ireland. A grace because few have known such wounds and yet gone on, still believing that he who seeks shall find, always with a sense of wonder and of wit. A gift because it has not been kept to the nation which made it, but carried outward to all the world. Ireland is an idea as well as a place, an ideal before it was a country, its borders all human space, its brothers the human species. For the deepest impulses of human existence are the oldest enterprise of Irish experience.
First there is the yearning for independence. When America marks its two hundred years, Ireland will have known barely fifty years of nationhood. The struggle crossed a decade of centuries, an eternity against Picts, Ivernians, and Danes; the Normans of Henry and the English of Cromwell. Those who began it could not even dream the world in which it would be won. They did not know the name their nation would come to be called; what they, and their descendants, knew was the cause of their dying. There was no single father of the country, no one shot which was heard around the globe. Instead, in a small island speck of earth, men and women – and children – raised their standard each time it fell; and by so doing, they set a standard of sacrifice and faith for all who want to determine their own destiny.
The second yearning is unity. Fourscore and nine years after its Revolution, America established that unity as it extended human freedom. The cost was bloody civil strife; the duration was four years. But for generations, Ireland has been split asunder. People live in the same neighborhood, but are distant; they do different work, or similar work at different wages; they worship the same god but some condemn the other’s service as sacrilege. There is killing in Belfast and Londonderry, bombing in Tyrone and Antrim, and terror everywhere. Still good men, and more each season, move toward unity in peace -- through a rekindling of common antecedents, a quieting of mutual suspicion. Someday the yearning will shape a united Ireland where the majority is just, the minority is protected, and the peace is secure. This may seem wishful or unreachable -- but so was our independence in the beginning; and so in fact was Irish liberation for a thousand years.
The final yearning is transcendence. The scripture tells us to be in the world, but not of it; the telling is not of a truth we do not know; it is an impelling to look into our hearts for the truth that is already there. Men are of a family and a tribe, but not entirely of it. Citizens are of a country, but not completely of it. We must transcend what we are and where we are from -- not to abandon the parameters of our being, but to widen them.
By necessity as much as choice, the Irish are the transcending race.
Irishmen who could not be Irish in their own land came to the new world and ‘with others declared and defended the independence of a new land -- so that by becoming Americans, they became more fully Irish.
Irishmen who could not free their North and their South enlisted in the cause of uniting America’s North and South -- so that by becoming liberators of the slaves, they became a witness to liberty everywhere.
There are four and half million Irishmen in Erie and Ulster; there are thirty million in the United States. They crossed the Atlantic, which for them in James Joyce’s words, was “a bowl of bitter tears”, worked, bought homes, built and saved; they fought the wars we had to fight and they lived the peaces as they were their glory is that they are Americans, but remain Irish.
So this, above all, we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day -- not merely the mystique of Irish descent, or the journey the Irish made; rather that their journey to a far destination did not deny their origin, but was rooted in it -- and that it in turn still enriches America. They came here, but they never left home.
This destiny must now set our direction. We, too, must transcend a particular land -- not by leaving it, but by enlarging its duty; not because we are under the tyranny of an occupying power, but because most men are preoccupied by the ancient tyrannies of poverty, famine, and warfare as we meet here, four hundred million people are starving; they are dying or near to it. A college student at M.I.T. has designed a nuclear bomb in his basement -- and the physicists say it might work. The atomic arsenal proliferates; resources are lavished on armaments everywhere. Conscience stirs us to act as we can; circumstance compels us. For America cannot live alone; surely and in safety -- a mad dictator with a bomb, or a hungry and enraged world, would not let us. We cannot prosper in isolation, for we rely on the oil and raw materials of others. We cannot save ourselves, or more fundamentally our souls, unless we hold to the standard which Christ has set for judgment: “I was hungry, and you gave me food.”
There are many plans; there are safeguards; the experts have prepared them; the politicians debate them.
But of us, of all Americans, a single thing above all else is required -- the yearning for transcendence which is the common impulse of man, the special heritage of the Irish. We must not permit a war that was wrong to destroy a world obligation which is right.
As the Irish have shared their spirit, we must share our goods -- because we have the goods to spare. We must reject the selfish lie that our economy will recover by hoarding for ourselves, by holding sustenance from others. The world is one lifeboat in a sea of stars; there is no cause for joy if our end is sound while the other end is sinking.
The Irish soul reveals that people live by more than grain and material gain. The Irish famine proved that no one can survive without them.
A great Irish poet once wrote: “I believe profoundly in the future of Ireland, that this is an isle of destiny, and that when our hour has come we will have something to give to the world.”
Through all its hours, Ireland has been a gift to the world; in the homeland and in a diaspora, the Irish have reached in song, and poetry, and deed to the deepest chords of human yearning.
Now as we celebrate them and their day and ours, now when the world’s hour has come, America must give something of its storehouse to the earth to which Ireland has given so much of its soul.