Wednesday 1 February 2012

A Homily for Saint Brigid's Day

In previous years I have posted a homily for the feast of Saint Brigid, first from the Leabhar Breac and last year from a 19th-century Irish priest. We stay this year with another 19th-century Irish priest, none other than dear old Canon O’Hanlon himself. He was in homiletic mood at the conclusion to chapter XIII of his account of Saint Brigid’s life in Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints. Canon O’Hanlon draws together all of the virtues for which Saint Brigid was celebrated in hagiography and his tribute could not be more different in tone from the ethos of our own times. No fire goddesses or community activists here, just a romantic vision of Brigid the saint:

Like that peerless Mother of our Lord, to whom she has been compared, Brigid was beautiful with the beauty of Heaven and earth mingled together, with eyes sweet and dove-like, and with a countenance most soft and pure. She was both lovely to see, as well as perfect, in heart and in soul. Nor did the lapse of years steal away any single grace or charm, for her heart and feelings were ever freshened with religious inspiration. The biographers of this illustrious saint are unmeasured in terms, used to describe her virtues and merits; but, they do not exaggerate her praises, however they may dilate on various miracles, attributed to her powerful intercession. We are told, how this wondrous pearl of virginity neither deflected to the right or left, but always pursued a just and virtuous course. She never spoke without blushing, a sign of her great modesty. She never yielded to carnal illusions; for no person could be more chaste and continent. She considered her prestige and virtues to have been gifts coming from Divine Providence. She examined her acquirements and merits, according to those severe judgments, pronounced by a mind, filled with prudence and true faith; while, she took little heed of popular applause or flattery. She considered ill-regulated public opinion and mere human praise, as tending only to produce vanity and selfishness, or as savouring of a worldly spirit. Her whole desires consisted in not appearing to be holy, while she aspired to the most exalted degree of sanctity. And, as Brigid ever willed a most perfect conformity to the decrees of Heaven, so did Divine mercy bestow on her countless treasures of grace; for, according to Holy Scripture, to every one possessing them shall yet be given, and they shall abound, while to those wanting them, what they seem to possess shall be taken away. So excellent did Brigid appear in the sight of God, that He was pleased to manifest her sanctity by the performance of most renowned miracles. These are abundantly instanced, throughout her acts. Whenever liberality is hoped for, it will usually be fully tested; and, an opinion of unrestricted and active charity must inevitably draw together needy and afflicted, towards benevolently-disposed persons. Hence, it happened, that so many poor and infirm individuals flocked to St. Brigid, not only from her own locality, but from most distant places. Those were allured by a report of her virtues and charities, while, they hoped relief under privation from their various distresses. When our saint had satisfied the wants of one pauper, she was ready to perform a like charitable office for a petitioner succeeding; while the same generous disposition was manifested towards all, without personal favour or exception. However her bounty had been extended to the whole flock, notwithstanding her charity was still moderated, according to various necessities; she gave abundantly to those most in need, more restrictedly to those in middling circumstances, and a little was only distributed to those needing little. Yet, no gift of hers could be considered small, when her hands administered relief, and her warm heart became the prompter of her largesses. Again, she was very humble, and she attended or was accustomed to the herding of sheep, as an occupation, and to early rising as conducive to health. This her life proves, and Cuimin of Coindeire states, in his poem, referring to her great perfections. She spent indeed many years, diligently serving the Lord, performing signs and miracles, curing every disease and sickness. Her vigils were incessant, and she watched over those subjects committed to her charge, with extraordinary care and tenderness. Her numerous miracles are compared to the grass of the field, because it grows in such abundance, by one of her many eulogists. Those wonders, recorded in her various Acts, would seem to confirm such a statement. She is specially ranked among the friends and disciples of our great Irish Apostle, St. Patrick; and, among his numerous religious daughters, not one was more distinguished for great force of character, for high intellectual accomplishments, and for sublime spiritual gifts.

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