February 1 we celebrate St. Brigid of Kildare. There are plenty of interesting tales about her, some of which are due to a connection made with a Celtic goddess of the same name and with female druids who had lived in the spot where her monastery eventually was located. She had a reputation as a spiritual guide and friend and is best known as the abbess of that monastery, which included both women and men. The book noted below says, "She is known for many leadership traits: patience, prayerfulness, inclusivity, and most of all, compassion. The latter quality was the basis of her spiritual power and of her ministry as a soul friend" (69-70). That is the kind of leadership I would like to learn and to which we all should aspire.
Brigid is also noted for giving things away to the poor, whether or not those things were hers to give, which rather reminds me of stories of our own Sr. Rosemary, who once gave away sisters' boots to people in need and sold Sr. Mary Eleanor's knitting project, still in process, while she wasn't around. The daughter of a slave, Brigid once nearly got sold for giving away her father's sword to a beggar; fortunately Sr. Rosemary was in no such danger.
Brigid is said to be the patron saint of farm animals, healers, midwives, smiths, and probably quite a number of other things as well. My Facebook friends posted a picture of her holding a beer stein with the information that she was the patron saint of ale, which was conveniently left out of most of the books in our convent library, to my amusement. She is often pictured with a flame in her hands because her nuns kept burning an eternal flame, a sort of holy fire, and because many stories about her involve flames.
While doing my noon reading, I found the most wonderful set of little stories about her, from which some of the information above is taken, and I'd like to share my favorite with you.
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Brigit of Kildare: Brigit is Ordained a Bishop
Brigit and certain virgins went to take the veil from Bishop Mel. He was very happy to see them. Because of her humility, Brigit held back so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof of the church. Bishop Mel said to her: "Come, holy Brigit, that a veil may be placed on your head before the other virgins." Then, it happened that, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit. Mac Caille, Bishop Mel's assistant, said that a bishop's rank should not be conferred on a woman. Bishop Mel replied: "But I do not have any power in this matter. That dignity has been given by God to Brigit, beyond every other woman." Therefore the people of Ireland from that time to this give episcopal honor to Brigit's successor."
Wisdom of the Celtic Saints
Edward C. Sellner
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1993
Information from the first part may be found on p. 69-75.
(collage by Jan Richardson)