Posts Tagged ‘Rainbow’

On a weekend getaway in the Garden State.  Couldn’t help snapping a shot of this beautiful (if a little faint) bow shining over the hills behind a train station in Dover, NJ last night, after a day of on-and-off rain.


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The lore of St. Patrick’s Day tells us of a pot-o’-gold at the end of the rainbow, guarded by a wee leprechaun.

In one particular sense, the Irish version of the rainbow myth is closer to the truth than others.  Based on common observance, it observes that the pot-o’-gold is impossible to get to, since one does not get any closer to a rainbow by walking in its direction.

Let it never be said that God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  We might say that this is His way of reminding us that we cannot attain salvation by our own efforts or powers.  It is a gift of grace.

Also, while the rainbow may appear to give us a link to Heaven, the truth remains that Heaven and earth can only be united by the One Who created both.

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

Insofar as Christ is the fulfillment of the Noahide Covenant, the rainbow, like the symbols of the other covenants (for example, the Ark of the Covenant with Moses), leads to the Cross.  So we can say that what we find at the end of the rainbow is not a pot-o’-gold or a leprechaun but, in fact, the Cross.

How does the St. Patty’s Day yarn point to this?  Well, I would venture to suggest two analogies:

1. The true “leprechaun” is Jesus Christ

True, leprechauns are impish, mischievous little creatures, and as such bear no resemblance to the Lord of lords.  But in a sense, Christ is like the leprechauns in that He makes Himself “little.”

St. Paul says it best:

Christ Jesus … though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

He manifests this littleness above all in becoming a helpless victim on the Cross for our salvation.

2. The true “pot of gold” is the gift of the Holy Spirit

Having reconciled mankind to God, Christ is able to pour out His Spirit upon the world to sanctify humanity and gather His children scattered by Babel into one Body — the Church.

PentecostThe Holy Spirit is, above all, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.  As Jesus is the Father’s Word, the Spirit is the Father’s Breath.  And He is given to us, so that we might have a share in the divine life.

…the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life. (CCC 694)

This is our true treasure.  And I hope you would agree that it puts any “pot-o’-gold” to shame.

So on the day we Irish celebrate the great saint who brought the Gospel to us, we should keep in mind that perhaps those little green men skipping among the clovers have something to teach us after all.

Image of Christ crucified obtained through a Google image search. Other images from Wikipedia.

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Noah's ArkAs I mentioned in part one, the Bible identifies the rainbow as the sign of God’s Covenant with Noah, and through Noah with all of creation.

Indeed, the notion of a Covenant, which involves kinship via oath, is of paramount importance in the Bible.  Many people know of God’s various Covenants with Israel throughout the Old Testament, as well as their ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

A lot of people even have at least a vague familiarity with God’s original Covenant with Adam — and therefore with all of mankind — which involved the pledge of steadfast love on His part, as well as the promise of a Redeemer.

But in between Adam and Israel, there was another Covenant that few of us understand.  We know the story pretty well, but we tend to miss the meaning behind it.

We shouldn’t get too caught up in questions about whether there was a literal flood that destroyed the whole world, whether a man literally built a boat that fit two of every kind of animal, or whether the rainbow first appeared only after the Flood was over.  The important thing to get out of the story of Noah’s Ark is that in God’s plan of salvation, it expresses His Covenant with the nations.

Confusion_of_TonguesThe fact that Noah’s story is followed immediately by the story of the Tower of Babel is significant.  Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part … This state of division into many nations is at once cosmic, social and religious. It is intended to limit the pride of fallen humanity united only in its perverse ambition to forge its own unity as at Babel … The covenant with Noah remains in force during the times of the Gentiles, until the universal proclamation of the Gospel … Scripture thus expresses the heights of sanctity that can be reached by those who live according to the covenant of Noah, waiting for Christ to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (CCC 56-58).

And so we can see the rainbow as a sign, inscribed into the canvass of nature, of God’s provident care for all people of all times and places in the world’s various nations, each with its own Guardian Angel.  So when the various cultures I alluded to in my first post betrayed vague notions of the rainbow as a “link” between heaven and earth, they were perhaps not too far off.

God’s next “move” is to take Abraham from among the nations, and from him to form a Nation that is to serve as a “light” to all other nations — that is, Israel.  Through various Covenants and their central signs — including circumcision, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Temple in Jerusalem — God prepares this unique nation for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the flesh.

For the gentiles, the rainbow is the sign of the Covenant meant to prepare them for the Gospel, to prepare their hearts to welcome the Redeemer Who will unite all nations in His Kingdom, the Church.

Now, with the rainbow’s Covenantal associations in place, we can “jump ship” from the Ark into the land of the leprechauns!

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St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us.  While there is much to be said about the great saint being commemorated — my Patron Saint, incidentally — I think most people’s attention would be more easily captivated by popular images of leprechauns and their pots-o’-gold under the rainbow.

Given this traditional affiliation, I want to preface my comments on leprechauns with a focus on the rainbow.

Rainbows have captivated mankind’s attention for ages, and so many cultures have attributed various forms of significance to it.


To the Vikings it was the Bifrost Bridge, believed to connect earth to Asgard, the realm of the gods.


According to Greco-Roman mythology, what we call the rainbow was in fact the path made in the sky by Iris, a minor deity whose job it was to relay messages between Heaven and Earth.


The ancient Chinese would have said that the rainbow came into existence as a result of a slit torn into the veil between heaven and earth, which the goddess Nüwa sealed using multi-colored stones.

Across the world’s many cultures throughout the millennia, interpretations of the rainbow included the clothing or paraphernalia of gods, omens, and the very form of a particular god itself.

Descartes_RainbowAnd then of course we have the modern scientific explanation of the rainbow, which is well beyond my expertise or powers of explanation and has something to do with the refractions of light.

This, however, gives us the how of the rainbow.  Before we dismiss the ancients as stupid primitives who understood nothing about the world, we should keep in mind that they were more concerned with whys than with hows.

If we take a look at the various cultures in question, we notice that most of them conceived of the rainbow in terms of some sort of connection between heaven and earth — whether in the form of a connecting apparatus or a revelation (intentional or not) on heaven’s part of itself.

NoahWith all this in mind, let’s take a look at the Biblical conception of the rainbow.

In the Book of Genesis, we read about God’s Covenant with Noah and all of creation after the Great Flood:

God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.  As the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and recall the everlasting covenant that I have established between God and all living beings – all mortal creatures that are on earth” (Genesis 9:12-16).

It is with this understanding of the rainbow in terms of a Covenant in mind that I intend to explore the leprechaun/rainbow symbolism in relation to Christianity.

Images obtained from Wikipedia.

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