Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
During the Christmas season from December 24th until the Sunday after Epiphany, we reflect upon the mystery of love that is made visible in the birth and early childhood of Christ.
Brigid, Religious, c. 450-525
Brigid (sometimes Bridget or Bridie) is one of many legendary Irish saints. According to tradition, her father was Dubhthach, an Irish chieftain, and her mother, Brocca, was a slave at his court. Brigid’s parents were baptized by St. Patrick, and Brigid herself developed a close friendship with that saint.
As a young girl, Brigid became interested in the religious life and probably professed her vows to St. Mel of Armagh while still in her early teens. About 470, she founded a double monastery at Cill-Dara and became abbess of the convent, which was the first in Ireland. The monastery developed into a great center of learning and spirituality, and around it grew up the cathedral city of Kildare.
Brigid also founded a school of art at Kildare and the illuminated manuscripts produced there became famous. One, the Book of Kildare, was praised as one of the finest of all Irish illuminated manuscripts before its disappearance about three centuries ago.
The Dictionary of Saints tells us that Brigid was one of the most remarkable women of her times, even discounting some of the fantastic legends that surround her. Stories of the miracles that she performed grew in incredibility as each of her biographers tried to surpass what had been written earlier about her. Butler’s Lives of the Saints recounts one beautiful legend about this saint, which indicates the love and compassion Brigid held for her sisters.
One evening, as the sun went down, Brigid sat with Sister Dara, a holy nun who was blind. They talked of the love of Jesus Christ and the joys of paradise. Their hearts were so full of joy that the night fled while they spoke together, and neither knew that so many hours had passed.
Then the sun came up from behind the Wicklow Mountains, and the pure white light made the earth bright and gay. Brigid sighed, when she saw how lovely were the earth and sky, as she knew that Dara’s eyes were closed to all this beauty. So Brigid bowed her head and prayed, extended her hand, and signed the dark orbs of the gentle sister. Then the darkness passed away from Dara’s eyes, and she saw the golden ball in the east and all the trees and flowers glittering with dew in the morning light.
Dara looked a little while, and then, turning to the abbess, said, "Close my eyes again, dear Mother, for when the world is so visible to the eyes, God is seen less clearly to the soul." So Brigid prayed once more, and Dara’s eyes grew dark again.
Called the "Mary of the Gael," St. Brigid is buried at Downpatrick with St. Columba and St. Patrick. She has become almost as popular in Ireland as St. Patrick, and is honored as well in parts of Scotland, Wales, and Australia. St. Brigid is a patron of scholars and dairy workers, and, along with St. Patrick, is a patron of Ireland. She is honored in Ireland on February 1.
Brigid's message today: The legend of Sister Dara teaches us about Brigid’s compassion, but also offers a lesson in the distractions of the world. Although it is not possible for most of us to focus only on the spiritual life, it is important to spend some time each day recognizing God’s presence in our lives.