Category Archives: Ireland

A great lake of beer

Today is the feast of a great Irish saint, Brigid of Kildare, who died in 525.

Little beyond legend is known of her life. Probably baptized by St. Patrick, she was the abbess of a double monastery – with both monks and nuns.

But what comes across is her compassion and generosity to the poor. There is a legend that she was a slave when she converted to Christianity, but her owner soon freed her because she was giving away so much to the poor.

Each day I try to read about the saints in Richard McBrien’s Lives of the Saints and Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. What strikes me is how often the saints, especially bishops, are noted for their generosity to the poor.

Brigid is no exception. She is said to have wanted “to satisfy the poor, to expel every hardship, to spare every miserable person.”

One year she distributed beer for 18 churches out of one barrel, from Holy Thursday until Pentecost. Another time a women with leprosy asked for milk; Brigid had none but gave her water which turned into milk; when the woman drank the milk she was healed.

So today, if it is your custom, have a beer in memory of Saint Brigid but, more importantly, find a way to share with a poor person.

In this way we can live – and not only pray – the prayer of Saint Brigid:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety. I should like flails of penance at my house. I should like the men of Heaven at my house; I should like barrels of peace at their disposal; I should like vessels of charity for distribution; I should like cheerfulness to be in their drinking. I should like Jesus to be there among them. I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around us from all parts.

Another martyred archbishop

Ten years ago today, the papal nuncio to Burundi, Michael Courtney, was ambushed and shot 25 times in southern Burundi

The government blamed rebels, but further investigations suggest that he was targeted by high-ranking members of the government, because he had evidence of government misuse of international funds. See the Catholic News Service report here.

Irish-born Archbishop Courtney was trying to broker peace in the troubled nation, where tribal conflicts had resulted in massacres (as in neighboring Ruanda) and a civil war. He was seeking to help the people of Burundi find a sense of being brothers and sisters, instead of identifying themselves by ethnic background.

I don’t know much more about his life or his witness. But he was committed enough to risk his own life.

Trying to seek peace and justice is not sitting back, talking about reconciliation. It is a hard process, demanding sacrifice – of oneself.

That sacrifice begins when we start treating others, even our enemies and opponents, with respect and love – speaking the truth, but seeking to find what is common to all of us: our identity as children of one God.

A step every day

According to The Celtic Year, today is the feast of St. Comgall, an Irish monk, founder of the Bangor monastery which formed and sent monks out to the world, including Columbanus who founded monasteries in France, Switzerland, and Italy.

His way of monastic life was severe – one meal a day, and he himself would at times pray standing in freezing waters.

His rule has been preserved and has these beautiful lines, quoted by Esther de Waal, cited in The Celtic Year:

Preserve the rule of the Lord;
in this you will run no risk;
Try not to transgress it
as long as your life lasts.

This is the most important part of the rule;
love Christ; hate wealth;
Devotion to the King of the sun
and kindness to people.

If anybody enters the path of repentance
it is sufficient
to advance a step every day.
Do not wish to be like the charioteer.

How often do I want to advance like a charioteer – or like a racecar driver, we’d say today. But the wisdom of the saints is “advance a step a day.”

Even one step a day can be a great advance in terms of the Kingdom of God.

Though we set our sights high – on God, we advance only if we tread carefully, everyday, one step at a time, watching where we are going, not racing by the opportunities God offers us every day to walk in His footsteps.

Northern Ireland peacemaker

On June 16, 1980, a British Quaker pacifist, Will Warren died. He lived and worked for a time in Northern Ireland and was known for his direct peacemaking efforts, at times preventing violence by speaking directly to the para military factions on all sides. He spent six years in the Bogside, a very conflictive area of Belfast.

Here is a quote that sums up his life and work.

“One of my fundamental beliefs is that there is something of God in everybody. Everything else springs from this. I am not nonviolent by nature. I do believe that nonviolence must come if you try to follow the way of Christ. I also believe that if you see anything wrong, you shouldn’t be a democrat and call a meeting and elect a committee to do something about it, and then forget to do it; but you should do something yourself, or try to do something yourself about it. This is followed by one other thing. I do not believe that you can effect reconciliation unless you can speak to the people you’re trying to reconcile.”