'All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.’


Shamrock courtesy of unsplash.com

The story of the Shamrock is one that everyone half knows. The half that everyone knows is the bit where St Patrick is trying to explain to the ancient Irish the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and was - like many preachers before and since - having a bit of a struggle with the whole business of how God could be both One and Three at the same time. Then he chanced upon a tiny plant - the Shamrock - which had three leaves, individual, different & distinct - but was united in a single plant. And all around him, ancient Celts nodded in sudden understanding, were converted and lived happily ever after. That’s the story as most of us were told it.

But the best stories come in more than one version. And another version tells essentially the same story but in a particular context. In this version, St Patrick isn’t just wandering about gratuitously preaching Trinitarian theology to the Gaelic peasantry just for the sheer heck of it. No, he is sent to the three sons of the king of Tara who are preparing for war to decide which of them will succeed to their father’s throne. And Patrick’s point is not only about the nature of God, but about the nature of humanity. They are three shoots of the same branch. They are a family in the same way and for the same reason that God is a family. And because Patrick, with his little shamrock, was able to show them how they looked from the outside - that there was more to unite them than to divide them, there was peace rather than war.

That thought came to me again today partly because today is Trinity Sunday, but more because of something that happened to me a little while ago.
I was out for my usual little Saturday afternoon jog in the park and, as I was coming back home, I heard – away in the distance – a baby crying. But not just crying – really howling. I pitied the poor parents.

But as I got closer, I realised there was something wrong with the noise – it was wrong… it wasn’t a baby – it sounded more like a dog howling and I heard a regular thump! Thump! Thump!!! as if the dog was being beaten - and badly beaten. I felt a sense of anger grow within me.

And then I came round a corner and I saw where the noise was coming from. A young man was standing over a huddled shape on the ground, stamping repeatedly on its head as it howled in anguish and pain. Outraged that anyone could treat a dog like that, I ran towards him. He looked up, saw me coming. I saw a face full of anger and cruelty. And then he ran off.

I looked down on the dog as it howled and realized that it was not a dog. It was a boy of maybe 14 or 15 years. And as I helped him up I saw that he had almost the same face as his attacker. And as I helped him stand I realized that this was a younger brother who had been beaten terribly by his older brother – and could easily have been killed by him. He was a foreigner and spoke little English, but told me that he was not seriously hurt. He didn’t want me to call the Police or an ambulance, or anyone else – not even his parents - especially not his parents. And, after he had recovered a little, he said goodbye to me and limped away.

Being an only child, I speak as one less wise (and I realise that Cain and Ishmael might have something to say on the subject), but I really cannot understand how a young man could be so angry as to stamp on his brother’s head.

Einstein once wrote: “A human being is part of a whole called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons near to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

This is a brave statement, but I believe it to be true. All the conflict in the World – absolutely all of the War, killing and the suffering that comes from it, are due to a basic unwillingness to see ourselves as part of a greater whole.

And that is why St Patrick’s shamrock matters, why Einstein’s general theory of Relativity matters, why the doctrine of the Trinity matters. Only people who have forgotten God can be individualists. For everyone else, who knows and understands the reality of God and the Universe, recognizes that we live under the eye of God within whom everyone and everything are ultimately united.

This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church – the Unitedness of the entire World in God - Father, Son and Spirit - and we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.

Paul O'Reilly SJ