Friday, February 1, 2013

St. Brigid of Ireland - First Friday of the Month - Oblate Diaconal Ordination: David MacPhee, OMI

The image here is of Brigid with lepers. It is taken from a mosaic in Armagh Cathedral. Brigid of Kildare is also patroness of those who have a care for the earth, for justice and equality, for peace. And that is how Brigidine Sister Rita Minehan profiles her here. She also takes into account Brigid as a model for contemplative prayer.  

A great resurgence of interest in all aspects of our Celtic heritage is leading many individuals and groups to rediscover – and draw inspiration from – the lives of the early Irish saints. St Brigid, the patroness of Ireland, is emerging as one whose life has relevance and inspiration for us as we try to face the issues that confront our country and our world at this time. When we look at the life of Brigid and at some of these issues we can see more clearly why she continues to be relevant to us today.

Carer of the earth

The feast of St Brigid on the first of February is a celebration of the wonderful springing back of the earth from its winter sleep. It is the season when we celebrate new beginnings and new life on earth. The sod is turned. The day lengthens. Seeds are sown and sails are hoisted.

Many of the stories about Brigid tell of her milking the cows, churning the milk, making up the firkins of butter, shepherding her flocks of sheep, helping with the harvest and even brewing the ale!

Brigid, in keeping with her Celtic traditions, was wonderfully attuned to the seasons and cycles of nature. She valued the elements of nature: earth, air, fire and water.

Light the fire

Today, we are becoming more aware of the fragility of our planet. Lands are becoming barren, skies fouled, waters poisoned. Many individuals and groups concerned about the environment draw inspiration from the reverence and respect which Brigid had for the land. She is often referred to as the Saint of Agriculture.

In a new hymn, composed by Fr Liam Lawton, Brigid is invoked ‘to heal our wounds and green our earth again.’

“A Life of Brigid” (Vita Brigitae), composed by Cogitosus about 650 AD, places great emphasis on Brigid’s faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with animals, and her compassion for the poor and the oppressed. Twenty three of the thirty two chapters tell of her extraordinary concern for the poor. One of the Brigidine legends illustrates this very effectively.

Woman of compassion

One day when Brigid was on a long journey she stopped to rest by the wayside. A rich lady heard about this and brought her a beautiful basket of choice apples. No sooner had she received them than a group of very poor people came by and begged her for food. Without a moment’s hesitation, Brigid gave them the choice apples. The rich lady was utterly disgusted and she complained to Brigid, “I brought those apples for you, not for them.” Brigid’s reply was: “What is mine is theirs.”

This Brigidine legend poses a challenge to all of us in terms of our world today, where forty-five thousand people die from hunger and hunger-related diseases every day and where twenty percent of the population own and consume about eighty percent of the earth’s resources.

The poverty gap continues to widen both within and between countries, as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. This legend challenges us to work for a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources.

Model of equality

It is generally accepted that Brigid established her abbey and church in Kildare around 480 AD, on the site now occupied by St Brigid’s Cathedral. Brigid held a unique position in the Irish Church and society of her day. As Abbess, she presided over the local Church of Kildare and was leader of a double monastery for men and women.

Tradition suggests that she invited Conleth, a hermit from Old Connell near Newbridge, to assist her in Kildare. Cogitosus tells us that ‘they governed their Church by means of a mutually happy alliance.’

What emerges from many of these stories and legends about Brigid is the portrait of a strong and gentle woman, a powerful leader, a good organiser, a skilful healer and a wise spiritual guide. Brigid has become – for men as well as women – a potent symbol of Christian womanhood, showing us in so many different ways the feminine face of God.

Woman of peace

There was no lack of domestic strife in the Ireland of Brigid’s day, where feuds between clans were commonplace. She is often depicted as a peacemaker who intervened in disputes between rival factions and brought healing and reconciliation. Folklorists tell us that in some parts of Ireland a St Brigid’s cross was often used as a token of goodwill between neighbours, indicating a desire for peace and friendship after a local quarrel.

One of the best-known stories associated with St Brigid is that of her giving away her father’s precious sword to a poor man so that he could barter it for food to feed his family. Thus, a sword, a weapon of war, was transformed into a life-giving instrument.

This story offers an important lesson for our world today where every minute thirteen million pounds is being spent on weapons of war.

One wonders what links Brigid would make today between the massive expenditure on arms and the welfare of the poor people of the world?

Woman of contemplation

Brigid emerges as a woman of action in the stories, legends and poems about her. If one, however, were to seek the source from which she drew her strength and energy, one could probably find the answer in this story.

One day, Saint Brendan the Navigator stood on a cliff top and watched two whales engaging in fierce combat. Suddenly, the smaller whale, in a human voice, cried out for help not to Brendan but to Brigid, who was not even present. The cry was answered immediately, and the combat ceased.

Brendan was puzzled as to why he had been ignored. ‘Do you always think about God?’ asked Brigid, when the two met. ‘Yes,’ replied Brendan, ‘except at times when my boat is caught in a storm at sea and I have to concentrate on keeping it afloat.’ ‘That’s the explanation,’ Brigid answered. ‘From the moment I first knew 
God I have never let him out of my mind, and I never shall.’

An old Irish poem, written in the seventh century, speaks of her contemplation of the Trinity:

Deeper than the seas,
Greater than words can express, 
Three persons in one only God;
Overflowing with wonder.’

Woman of inspiration

Even today, poets, writers and artists still find inspiration in the symbols, customs and folklore surrounding Brigid.

One writer recently referred to her as ‘the woman who, above all others, embodies the spirit of pre-Christian and Christian Ireland’.

In a beautiful leadlight window in Kildare College Chapel, Holden Hill, South Australia, the artist depicts Brigid dancing the dance of the new life of creation, carrying the Spirit of Jesus into the twenty-first century.

Many of the values associated with Brigid are captured in this delightful poem:

Lady, from winters dark,
Star of Imbolc, rise!
Dance around our threshold, 
Scattering warm laughter, 
Seeds of hospitality,
Tolerance, forgiveness!
Return again to the folk;
You the spring we yearn for!
What a lovely image to carry with us into the future!

First published in The Irish Messenger, a publication of the Irish Jesuits (February 2002)


GENERAL INTENTION: Migrant Families. 

  • That migrant families, especially the mothers, may be supported and accompanied in their difficulties.

  • That the peoples at war and in conflict may lead the way in building a peaceful future.

* * * * * *


Holy Canadian Martyrs Church, Ottawa, ON—January 25, 2013

[Texts: Acts 22.3–16; Psalm 117; Galatians 1.11–24; Mark 16.15–18]

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Almost two hundred years, on this day in 1816, Father Eugene de Mazenod and several companions gathered in Aix-en-Provence to form a fraternity of seminarians and priests. Their goal was the renewal of a Church badly damaged by the French Revolution.

They intended to revive the faith with missions and retreats, in which devotion to the Sacred Heart and to Mary Immaculate would be a supernatural means of regeneration. They took as their motto the text of Isaiah quoted by Jesus in his inaugural proclamation in Nazareth, which we will hear in this Sunday’s gospel, “He sent me to bring Good News to the poor” (Isaiah 61.1; Luke 4.18).

Pope Leo XII approved the charism of the band of zealous reformers on February 17, 1826. The Oblate way of religious life and service to the church regularly undergoes refinement. But a declaration made in 1853 still applies today, “Whoever wishes to become one of us must have an ardent desire for his own perfection, and be enflamed with the love for Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church and a burning zeal for the salvation of souls.”

The challenge of the church in every age is to respond to the call to conversion, as did the Apostle Paul. We celebrate his conversion and vocation in today’s feast. In the dramatic accounts found in the Acts of the Apostles, the Risen Lord challenges Paul to see things differently. Paul thought he was serving God by opposing heretics who preached Jesus as God’s Messiah. He learns that the Christians he was persecuting were in fact the manifestation of the Body of Christ.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul described the same reality of his conversion experience. It was the revelation of God’s Son to him by the one who had set him apart for the worldwide mission while he was still in his mother’s womb.

Each candidate for consecrated life and Holy Orders can, like Paul, recount aspects of his call. Some are exterior, like the drama of meeting Christ in youth ministry or in mega-celebrations like World Youth Day. 

Some are interior movements of the Holy Spirit, which clarify the specific nature of the call. Such promptings could direct someone to serve God as a vowed religious rather than as a diocesan priest.

In the gospel, we read that Christ chose disciples to proclaim the Good News of salvation, conversion and new life. That work transcends time and place. They, and we, must evangelize the whole world in every age and in every place. This challenge the Oblates took up when they heard the call to move beyond France into all the world.

The Oblates’ first foreign mission was Canada. With steady reinforcement from France and Canadian recruits, they moved up the Ottawa Valley, and in 1845 into the North-West, where they were largely responsible for establishing the Catholic Church.

From the beginning, Ottawa has held a prominent place in Oblate history. Our first bishop, Bruno Guigues, was drawn from their ranks. He helped establish Bytown College, which would evolve into the University of Ottawa and St. Paul University.

The primary Oblate work was to bring Christianity to the Native Peoples. This led to a large role in bringing about reconciliation between the aboriginal population and the European settlers. This task continues today. The Canadian Oblates, in turn, have become missionaries to other countries, notably in Latin America and in Africa. Our brother David MacPhee served in Kenya as part of his formation.

Beloved brothers and sisters: this our son, who is your relative and friend, is now to be advanced to the Order of Deacons. Consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which he is about to be raised.

Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will help the Bishop and his priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing himself to be a servant to all. As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful.

Furthermore, it will be his duty, at the Bishop’s direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. He will preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless Marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.

Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the Apostles and bound more closely to the service of the altar, he will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, he is to go about all these duties in such a way that you will recognize him as a disciple of him who came not to be served, but to serve.

Now, dear son, you are to be raised to the Order of the Diaconate. The Lord has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do.

As a Deacon, that is, as a minister of Jesus Christ, who came among his disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart. Serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord. Because no one can serve two masters, look upon all defilement and avarice as serving false gods.
Since by your own free choice, you present yourself for the Order of the Diaconate, you should be a man of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, as were those once chosen by the Apostles for the ministry of charity.

See your ministry of caring for the poor and needy as an extension of God’s compassionate mercy. As Pope St. Leo the Great said so marvellously, “there is nothing more worthy of man than that he become an imitator of his Creator and...the executor of the divine plan. For when the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed and the sick are strengthened–is this not the divine assistance that the hand of the minister accomplishes, and is not the goodness of the servant the hand of the Lord at work? For when God finds a helper to realize his merciful touch, he so limits his omnipotence, that he alleviates the sufferings of man through the actions of men.” In your ministry, invite other disciples to enter into this outreach to the poor with you.

You will exercise your ministry committed to the celibate state. Know that celibacy is both a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it, as well as a source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. Compelled by the sincere love of Christ the Lord and living this state with total dedication, you will cling to Christ more easily with an undivided heart. You will free yourself more completely for the service of God and man, and minister more effectively in the work of spiritual rebirth. Have frequent recourse to Mary Immaculate, whose maternal intercession will protect you from temptation.

Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourself chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for a minister of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries.

Never allow opposition to turn you away from the hope offered by the Gospel. Now you are not only a hearer of this Gospel but also its minister. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express by your actions the word of God, which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God.

Then on the last day, when you meet the Lord face to face, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

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