Make Friends With Friends of God Like St. Patrick

Catholics should not be content to be trapped in our own age, unable to look outside this time and place for good and heroic companions.

St. Patrick is depicted in a stained-glass window in Montreal.
St. Patrick is depicted in a stained-glass window in Montreal. (photo: meunierd / Shutterstock)

Back in 1991, The Jerry Springer Show debuted on American television. The show was presumably intended to shock viewers, as the host paraded out bizarre guests engaged in even more bizarre situations — most of them falling within the realm of weird and multiple violations of the sixth and ninth commandments.

A 2020 article in The Guardian aptly described the show: “On a daily basis, it served up a clumpy gruel of screaming and fistfights that first defined and then accelerated the concept of the Ugly American across the world. It was a low-rent, knock-down, barroom brawl of a show that splashed around in humanity’s very worst excesses. And people couldn’t get enough of it.”

That last line is, sadly, very telling — especially considering the show ran for 27 seasons. Why couldn’t people get enough of it?

I suspect that part of the attraction for the viewers lay in their personal comparisons with the shows’ guests. Perhaps millions of viewers thought, “Hey, I might be messed up, but I’m not as bad as that guy!” In varying measure, the viewers may have been right: in comparison, maybe they weren’t as objectively bad. But therein lies the problem: the comparison itself. What they should have been asking was this: If I need to turn to The Jerry Springer Show to validate my actions, what does that say about me?

Standard catechisms warn against the danger of “bad companions.” But the admonition does not apply only to the men and women who are physically near us; broadly, it includes those whom we endorse with our thoughts and our words.

In America at present, we are largely governed by bad companions. Left, right and center, some of their egregious offenses against the Ten Commandments are well-evidenced. Yet for many Americans, these people comprise their personal lists of heroes. Over the course of my career, I’ve written speeches for faithful and virtuous men, and I know firsthand that it is unfair to paint all politicians with the same brush. Nevertheless, the fact remains: modern American politics bears an increasing resemblance to The Jerry Springer Show — and we can’t “get enough of it.”

While we cannot read the hearts of these politicians, justice dictates that we condemn their actions — as does charity, for one cannot love the sinner while refusing to hate the sin

And to the extent that we idolize boldly unrepentant public sinners, to the extent that we encourage the normalization of moral abnormalcy, to the extent that we refuse to hate the sin, we become bad companions.

I began writing for the Register on March 17, 2017, so I’ve considered St. Patrick the patron saint of my blog. In that first blog, I quoted St. Patrick from his Confession: “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many ...”

As I’ve written over the years, I’ve thought a lot about St. Patrick and what saintly humility looks like. That presents a Herculean challenge for me, but I keep a little statue of St. Patrick near my computer as a hopeful and encouraging reminder. In a world of bad companions, St. Patrick has proven a good companion for me. But Patrick is not my only companion on this journey. As research for my next book, I have been reading a biography of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure — the story of a saint, written by a saint. I’ve discovered that reading such a book is a pretty excellent way to spend one’s time.

As Catholics who are striving for holiness, we should not be content to be trapped in our own age, unable to look outside this time and place for good and heroic companions. We all need to spend time with good companions — saintly companions — even if those companions lived and died centuries ago. In some ways, they can prove better companions now, as they enjoy the vision of God. This is the corollary of the catechisms’ basic logic about companions: while bad companions drag you down, good companions can lift you up — all the way to Heaven.

St. Patrick, pray for us.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
St. Bonaventure, pray for us.