This coming Saturday, 1st February is the feast of St Brigid, the secondary patron of Ireland. St Brigid was known for her charity and mercy which she placed at the heart of the Church.
The earliest surviving legend of Brigit was written by the Kildare monk Cogitosus (c. 620-680), within 150 years of her death. In his account, Brigid is portrayed consistently as compassionate and merciful. She is a woman of charity ‘to the poor and to wayfarers…having given all away to the poor’. On one occasion when a man had suffered a grave injustice we are told she was ‘moved with pity…filled with deep grief for the unfortunate man who had been unfairly condemned’. Cogitosus speaks of ‘the excellence of her holiness’, ‘her marvellous hospitality’ and how ‘no poor person left her presence empty-handed’. He also writes of her charity and kindness to lepers and animals. A later biography tells the story of how, when she was asked during a ceremony to choose a particular beatitude to live by, she chose ‘the beatitude of mercy’.
The fruit of Brigid’s witness to mercy was unity. In his prologue to The Life of Brigid, Cogitosus refers to ‘this woman who drew to herself from all the provinces of Ireland inestimable numbers of people of both sexes’. All were ‘filled with admiration for the girl who was incomparable in her faith and in the merit of her good works’ and that ‘people were drawn to her from all parts by the great fame of her virtue and exceeding generosity’.
In Brigid, the Irish Church has an exemplar of charity and hospitality. These are the virtues without which the Church would disintegrate. She is someone who calls us back to mercy and who points the way to an ecumenism of love. She connects the unity of Christians and the charity between them, as Christ did at the last supper when he prayed that we be one and that we ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). To the measure we love one another, to that extent we are united. Put simply, ‘where there are sins, there are divisions. Where there is charity, there is unity.’
If love and mercy are the key to unity within the Church then it is also the key to her mission ad extra to the world. At a time of increasing secularism, the imperative for a stronger Christian unity that translates into a greater unity of mission and purpose, appears all the more urgent. In a culture of multiple identities, now is a time when the scandal of division among Christians appears less tolerable and the need greater to show the world the Trinity at a time of global uncertainty and fragmentation.
In 1963, during his Sate visit, President John F. Kennedy paid tribute to Ireland as ‘a maker and shaper of world peace’. He said: ‘No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and western culture alive in their darkest centuries…You have something to give to the world’. These words remind the Irish Churches not to preserve all our energies in resolving theological differences between the traditions, important as this work is.
Joint mission to the world saves the Church from being too ‘self-referential’ and shows how ‘unity of action leads to the full unity of faith’. As Pope Francis explains: ‘To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue’. In this light, the witness of St Brigid invites Irish Christians to see the universal nature of their Christian vocation that extends to the whole of humanity and beyond their own locality and denomination.
May St Brigid, Mary of the Gael, inspire us a greater mercy and love at the heart of the Church.
"Come join the community of Clonard Parish for an evening of song, poetry, and gratitude for nature's beauty as we celebrate the feast day of St. Brigid! The service will be at 7:00 pm at Clonard Church of the Annunciation on Sunday, February 2nd. You're most welcome to come be a part of this beautiful annual event!"
Teach Bhride XI, Clonard, Wexford.