As I was growing up in the Episcopal Church, Saint Patrick was seen as too Catholic and too Irish a saint to merit much observation from the Anglophile WASPs of my childhood parish. Outside of the secular observation of a day filled with green beer and public displays of debauchery, I didn’t give today’s feast day much thought, except when it meant avoiding the parade route due to traffic and sidewalk vomit.
In my late twenties, Saint Patrick took on a new meaning for me when I entered the Catholic Church at Saint Patrick’s parish, guided by priests from Germany and Uganda. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, with her German Jewish ancestry, was presented to me as my patron saint by a Polish priest radiating Christ’s love. The universality of the moment was not lost on me. At the same Easter Vigil I was welcomed Home, three generations of a Vietnamese family were also baptized and received into the Church. Grandparents, parents, teens, toddlers, and infants all received the waters of baptism. The Vigil was particularly long that year because the Rites were celebrated in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese so that all catechumens could understand in their own language. God is in all people, for all people, throughout the ages and generations.
When I turned twenty-nine, I was sure that God intended for me to discover my vocation before I was thirty. At least, that’s what I told myself as I tried to force God’s hand to work on my timeline and my to-do list. I had spent my twenties trying to make myself perfect enough to be worthy of love, marriage, and children. I did not want to date until I felt desirable, worthy, and wanted, and so I did not date for half a decade. Enveloped in a smog of depression, I did not see myself as worthy of love, and I was certainly not in a state of sober-mindedness to prayerfully discern marriage. Christ tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but what do you do when you hate yourself? How do I love my neighbor as myself, when I want to crawl out of my own skin? Is there a dating service for anti-social misanthropes with an affinity for congregational hymnody? I haven’t found that sub-reddit group yet, but I’m on the lookout.
In the meantime, I prayed the novena to Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, asking for guidance on my vocation. There was something about her life’s work that made me want to delve deeper into philosophy, explore the Carmelite orders, and aspire to martyrdom. And so I prayed, and received an answer of sorts. Within a week of completing the novena, three men asked me on a date. I accepted all three, because as the saying goes, “if there ain’t no ring, it ain’t no thing.” The first night, my date took me to a lovely jazz bar with a fantastic band visiting from New Orleans. The next night, my second date also surprised me with an equally enjoyable night at the same jazz bar, which I thought was slightly odd. When my third date in three days pulled his car into the parking lot of the same jazz bar, I exclaimed out loud if someone was playing some sort of practical joke on me. I was too shocked at the situation to register his dismay that I had been on other dates that week, and at the same bar to boot. I didn’t have time to consider his fragile ego–I had spiritual discernment to do.
I am not one for signs and wonders, and any manner of marketing practices could have led three strangers to choose the exact same jazz bar three nights in a row. But I kept meditating on the jazz bar’s name, The Free Man. Night after night, I kept being returned to The Free Man. I had prayed for Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to help me choose a vocation, and she had responded by showing me that I am both worthy of love and free to love. I had thought my vocation was something that could be chosen, rather than freely given and freely accepted. As my sullen third suitor of the week drove me home that evening, I exclaimed aloud, “so that’s what Saint Therese of Lisieux was talking about when she said her vocation was love!” My date was less than impressed with the Little Flower.
Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick, the man with the shamrocks. At age 16, Saint Patrick was trafficked and enslaved for six years to a foreign country that he would come to represent as their patron saint. He was not free, and his life was not his own. In the dehumanized hopelessness of slavery, Patrick placed his hope in God and converted his captors. He saw his traffickers as his neighbors, and he loved them. Thing is, as Christians we quickly come to learn that even when we are free, our lives are not our own. Self-will keeps us entombed in the world rather than free with the Spirit.
It has been five years since my three-date week, and I am still a very free woman, whether I like it or not. I still fear that I am undesirable, while anxiously desiring love from a husband that I worry will never appear. “What are you looking for?” That’s the primary question I am asked by men since I began dating online late last year. At first, I would tell them the truth, “I am looking for a friendship with a man in which we discern entering into a marriage covenant that will be mutual, exclusive, lifelong, with an openness to children.” I very quickly came to realize that was considered coming on too strong, even for religious guys. One man described my sacramental desire as kinky. I had to dial it back a notch. In the evenings after work, after walking the dogs and preparing dinner, I enter into conversations with men online about any manner of daily life, and it always circles back to that central question: “What are you looking for?”
One modern development of dating apps is the ability to see just how many weirdos, ahem, potential suitors, live in my zip code. With each swipe right or left, I have the opportunity to meet a new neighbor to love, or a new potential kidnapper depending on what the pre-date background check reveals. I avoid apps that focus on love as physical manifestation alone, but it is always a topic of conversation within the first few days of meeting. Again, I am out of practice with this, so apparently expounding on the basics of theology of the body is a bridge too far for most, well all, the men who have kindly taken me on first dates. That one’s on me. I’ll save the tutorial on sexual economics for the fourth date. Saint John Paul the Great would have had a field day with the theology of online dating. None of us are completely free quite yet; we are all running–at varying speeds–away from our vices, chosen and unchosen..And so, when a man asks me what I’m physically willing to do outside of marraige, I will send him resources on porn and sex addiction. That one’s on him.
“What are you looking for?” Saint Patrick did not choose to go to Ireland, and he became the patron saint of the land of his captivity. Please God, do not let me become the patron saint of online dating.
“What are you looking for?” Saint Patrick found holiness in a dehumanized life without freedom because he was looking for God, and God is everywhere. Saint Patrick’s Lorica sings how God is before, behind, in, beneath, and above us. God is in the heart, mouth, eyes, and ears of any person we encounter. These are our neighbors, known and unknown, loved and unloved.
So what am I looking for? I am looking for Our Triune God, the Creator of creation, in and through my neighbor. I am looking for Love. I pray that Saint Patrick will help me have the eyes to see it as I make myself at home in this world and the next.
Rachel Lamb, a lifelong Texan, earned her Master of Divinity degree with a certificate in Anglican Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 2011. After being offered a position as a pro-abortion chaplain with the Episcopal Church, she began volunteering with the pro-life movement, and entered the Catholic Church in 2014. Rachel enjoys speaking consistent truth to the value of all life, and finding common ground within the pro-life and feminist movements.