Sunday 31 March 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid's Easter


1.     As Easter Day was approaching, Saint Brigit wanted to give a banquet for all the churches which were near her in the surrounding towns of Mide.
2.     However, she had not the wherewithal for a banquet except for a single vat of beer, for there was a shortage of provisions in those parts at the time.
3.     Now she put the beer from the vat into two basins, for she had no other vessels.
4.     And the beer was divided up and taken by Brigit to the eighteen surrounding churches and there was enough for them all for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday and the week up to the end of Easter.
5.     The same Easter a leper came to saint Brigit and as he was covered with leprosy he asked Brigit for a cow.
6.     Not having a cow she said to him, ‘Would you like us to pray to God for you to be cured of your leprosy?’ He replied,  ‘That to me would be the best gift of all’.
7.     Then the holy virgin blessed water and sprinkled it on the leper’s body and he was cured.
8.     He gave thanks to God and stayed with Brigit till his death….

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Sunday 17 March 2013

Goffine's Devout Instruction for the Feast of Saint Patrick

Below is a nineteenth-century translation of a work originally published in the seventeenth century by the German Norbertine priest Father Leonard Goffine (1648-1719).  In his 'devout instructions' the author sought to provide a commentary on the liturgy of the day in a question and answer form. The liturgical texts are prefaced by a life of Saint Patrick in which the Irish are depicted as 'wild and unpolished' heathens who live by 'war and robbery'. By contrast the Britons are depicted as having acquired a 'certain degree of culture' due to the Roman occupation and their adoption of Christianity. Any wounded national pride, however, is quickly salved by the assertion that the Irish were 'hardier warriors than the effeminate Britons'! By the end of the piece, thanks to the labours of Saint Patrick, these Irish barbarians can teach the rest of the world a thing or two about Christian civilization.


[March 17.]

ST. Patrick was born in the decline of the fourth century in a village called Bonaven Taberniae, in Armorice Gaul, being the same as the present Boulogne sur-Mer, in Picardy. His father  Calpurnius was of a noble Roman family, his mother Conchessa was niece to St. Martin of Tours. Patrick remained in his father's house until his fifteenth year, and then as he says in his book entitled "Confessions" and written towards the end of his life, God was pleased to lead him to his high vocation through a very painful and laborious preparatory school.

In those remote times Ireland was a mountainous, inhospitable country, covered all over with forests, bogs and morasses. Her inhabitants were wild and unpolished, lived by war and robbery; only a few of them had some little knowledge of the true God.The Britons, on the contrary, under the sway of the Romans had already attained a certain degree of culture and had adopted the Christian Faith. The Irish, however, were hardier warriors than the effemminate Britons; in their naval expeditions they visited the shores of England, landed here and there, attacked villages and unfortified towns, sacked them, and carried the inhabitants into slavery. A swarm of rapacious Irish assailed a manor belonging to Calphurnius, and cut down the domestics who attempted to resist. The parents were absent, but young Patrick and a number of the male servants were made prisoners and carried over to Ireland. From this day the son of Calphurnius, hitherto accustomed to the comforts of a wealthy home, entered upon a long and severe novitiate of six years. Slave to a coarse barbarian, he had to drive his master's cattle into the woods, to guard and feed them; not seldom he must spend, unsheltered, whole nights among bogs and marshes and was often cruelly beaten. Thus engaged in an endless struggle against hunger and thirst, heat and frost, deprived of every earthly consolation, and of every hope of deliverance, St. Patrick was taught by his misfortunes, in fervent prayers to have recourse to God and His blessed Providence, which always knows and possesses the means to console those, who lovingly confide in it. St. Patrick now commenced a new life; a celestial light now illumined his soul, and warmed his heart. He now examined his past life; the sorrow for having squandered so many years by not perfectly loving God, drew the most bitter tears from his eyes. Even towards the end of his life, as the Saint himself avows in his book of Confessions, every day he bewailed that time of his youth not devoted to God. Humble and resigned, he henceforth suffered all in a spirit of penance, and with confidence in the goodness of God awaited the hour of his delivery.

At length, after a severe trial of six years, this hour arrived for Patrick. In a dream he was ordered to leave his master's house and go to the sea shore; there he would find a vessel ready to take him on board. Patrick obeyed. After a journey of several days he arrived at the very spot, shown him in the dream, and there found a vessel about to start. But, unfortunately, Patrick had no money to pay for his passage, and in spite of all prayers the master of the ship refused to take him on board. Deeply afflicted Patrick was about to return to his master, but he had scarcely made several steps, when the owner became good-humored, recalled him and took him on board.

After a favorable voyage they landed on the shore of Northern Scotland, a desert wilderness in which they wandered about, discovering nowhere a human abode. Their provisions had all given out. Patrick's companions were yet heathens; he had, on board, told them of the God of the Christians and of His infinite love. Almost starving, they now, reminded Patrick of his words and besought him to implore his God. For if the Christians God, they said, is really almighty and merciful, he both can and will save us from starvation.

Patrick, penetrated by a lively faith, resolutely promised them the approach of delivery within an hour, in case of their sincere conversion to the true God. He was immediately absorbed in silent prayer, and no sooner had this hour elapsed, than they encountered a herd of swine, which sufficed as provision to the end of their voyage of twenty-four days.

Patrick's patience however was subjected to another hard trial. Though his pagan companions had witnessed, how soon Patrick's prayer was heard, yet before eating they sacrificed to their idols all the flesh; this forced Patrick to abhor all such meat and rather to suffer the most fearful hunger than defile himself by eating it. He was less afflicted by his own hunger and thirst, than by the incomprehensible spiritual blindness of these heathens, who in spite of an evident miracle would not desist from their idolatry. Finally, after many days of suffering, Patrick happily reached his home; where, however, he enjoyed only a short repose. He was a second and third time captured, but was soon released.

When God had by these years of suffering prepared His servant for the high vocation of being Ireland's guide to the only saving faith, He called him to the priesthood. Being once absorbed in prayer Patrick, in a vision, saw himself carried over to Ireland and there beheld a multitude of children, who with piteous cries stretched out their hands for help, as if they were in great need. In another vision he heard voices from the western shore, which cried out to him: "Come, we beseech thee, walk among us."

Patrick resolved to obey this heavenly call; but was opposed on all sides, and above all by his parents, who almost persuaded him to give up his pious project. God Himself, however, in a series of wonderful apparitions revealed to Patrick His adorable will. The saint was thus strenghtened and became firmly determined to go to Ireland in order to bear salvation to her people. None would accompany him to the work of saving those poor, neglected souls. He was consecrated bishop, that he might afterwards ordain such Irish converts, as by zeal and science should be qualified to be his co-laborers. Having overcoming many obstacles Patrick left all, his native country, his parents and relations, to embark for the northernmost border of the then known world, to spread the light of the Gospel. He had during a six years captivity acquired the Irish language, and was thus enabled to preach to them the doctrine of the cross in their own mother tongue.

His success was wonderful. Wheresoever he came, the people flocked together and, as it were, clung to the lips of the saintly preacher; hunters and warriors were changed into tame, calm and obedient lambs, and at the close of each sermon all would stretch forth their arms towards him, beseeching him for the Sacrament of Baptism. He baptized them as soon as they were sufficiently instructed in every article of faith.

The Saint seeing the great success of his apostolic work provided this vineyard of Christ with necessary laborers. For this purpose he selected such converts for each district, as proved sufficiently zealous and educated, and by the imposition of his episcopal hands ordained them acolytes, deacons and priests. To this young Irish clergy, as also to the prospering parishes, St. Patrick carefully imparted all good counsel and directed them wisely, at the same time erecting churches in all parts of the country. After the saint had labored much upon this Island, Britain at last remembered him, and sent to him two co-laborers, the bishops Auxentius and Iserinus, whose aid the saint most joyfully accepted. He immediately erected a number of episcopal seats, to which he gave intelligent and pious bishops. Nor even did it suffice the Apostle of Ireland to strengthen and fortify in their faith those already converted; he moreover desired to lead them upon the very path of Christian perfection. He taught, therefore, young widows to devote their lives to continence; he persuaded young, tender maidens to transform their bodies into living temples of God by preserving their precious purity unsullied; he, moreover, encouraged wealthy youths to bestow their riches upon the needy and to follow Jesus with free and undivided hearts. No sooner had the Saint commenced to guide souls on this this seemingly rough, but actually delightful path, than they increased to such a number, as to compel him to erect monasteries for both sexes. One day he baptized a beautiful young girl of exceedingly fine form, and scarcely sixteen years of age. A few days after, the girl returned to St. Patrick informing him of an apparition which she had  (perhaps her guardian angel) in which it was made known to her that it would be agreeable to God, if she would devote her life exclusively to Him. The Saint saw her heart and recognized this to be vocation, and therefore gave her the sacred veil.

When advanced in years our Saint had the joy and consolation to see nearly all Ireland adoring the crucified Saviour. He therefore prayed incessantly for the grace of perseverance on the part of his beloved flock which he had purchased with so many sufferings and trials. Truly, no other country ever has manifested the blessed influence of Holy Religion more perseveringly than Ireland. Half a century after its saintly Apostle's death the people of Ireland rivalled every civilized nation. Every church and monastery, even at the time of St. Patrick, were provided with excellent schools; there great and celebrated masters reared scholars equally great and celebrated, so that in the course of several centuries men flocked to Ireland from all parts, there to still their thirst for knowledge, there to quench their thirst for knowledge, there to cultivate their minds and to receive the Doctrines of Salvation at a fount, which they well knew to be pure and unsullied. Ireland became the school of Saints, so that she even deserved to be styled “Isle of the Saints". Numerous Irish, as for instance SS. Columban, Gallus, Fridolin, Chilian and others started out for France and Germany, there to propagate the true faith in Christ.

St. Patrick died at a very advanced age. His body, deposited in a church at Down, was discovered in the year 1185. Ireland, despite all persecutions and oppressions, has stood faithful and kept the faith of her great apostle, St. Patrick. Down to the present day, every Irish heart remembers St. Patrick, its champion and patron, with sentiments of singular gratitude and devotedness.

At the Introit of the Mass the Church says: The Lord made to him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince: that the dignity of the priesthood should be to him forever. (Eccl. xlv.) O Lord, remember David and all his meekness. (Ps. cxxxi.) Glory, &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, who didst vouchsafe to send the blessed Patrick Thy Confessor and Bishop, to declare Thy glory to the nations: grant through his merits and intercession, that what Thou commandest us to do, we may with Thy mercy be able to accomplish. Through &c.  

LESSON. (Eccl. xliv.17- xlv 20.) Behold, a great priest, who in his days pleased God and was found just: and in the time of wrath was made a reconciliation. There was not any found like to him who kept the law of the Most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord made him increase among his people. He gave him the blessing of all nations and confirmed his covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in his blessings: he preserved for him his mercy: and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory. He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him a great priesthood, and made him blessed in glory: to execute the office of the priesthood, and to have praise in his name: and to offer him worthy incense for an odor of sweetness.

EXPLANATION. The text of the chapters from which this lesson is taken refers to the great and holy men of the Old Law, as to Enoch, Noe, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. God found these men just, and He therefore, showered upon them His graces and blessings, and exalted them above the powerful of this earth. In like manner St. Patrick, the great priest of God, was blessed and exalted, because he was pleasing to God, and found just, he was a model of all Christian virtues. God blessed him like Abraham making him the spiritual father of a great nation.  The praise of the Almighty was continually on the lips of St. Patrick and the incense of prayer and of good works daily ascended to His throne; God therefore, honored him on earth and crowned him with the diadem of eternal glory in Heaven.

GOSPEL. (Matt. xxv. 14 — 23.) At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: A man going into a far country, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability, and immediately he took his journey. And he that had received the five talents went his way, and traded with the same, and gained other five. And in like manner he that had received the two, gained other two. But he that had received the one, going his way, digged into the earth, and hid his lord's money. But after a long time, the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents, behold, I have gained other five over and above. His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, thou deliveredst two talents to me, behold, I have gained other two. His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

[For explanation see the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6.]