Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B: 28.01.24
Welcome to our gathering that in many ways formally begins the celebrations of the 1,500th Anniversary of the death of St. Brigid. Brigid’s homecoming! Brigid coming home to her own Kildare, Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak, the place of Brigid. Brigid will be no stranger here, like our visit in this morning’s gospel to Capernaum … we’ve been there before … the word Capernaum coming from the Aramaic meaning ‘uncertain’. A strange place one might think to begin ministry and yet it’s here in Capernaum that Jesus chooses to anchor His ministry.
In this morning’s gospel text taken from St. Mark, Jesus walks into their synagogue and we’re told he taught with “authority”, a word that features twice in our text. We realise authority is challenged at every turn these days. Moses, a figure of prophetic authority in the Old Testament is preparing the people for his successor; his time is coming to an end. It might be called today ‘succession planning’. St. Brigid was a huge figure of authority in the early Church, baptised by St. Patrick, professed by St. Mel, Spiritual Adviser to St. Conleth.
She listened to God’s voice in creation all around her, in the streams, the hills and the plains. When you walk out to St. Brigid’s Well out the road, you appreciate the God of Creation. Just as her cloak stretched over the Curragh plains, so too she stretches her hand of welcome, hospitality and affection over us this historic day. A day when we welcome home to Kildare the relic that has come to us, from the Brigidine Sisters in Tullow who in turn received from Lumiar, just outside Lisbon in the 1930’s. Taking a quiet moment in the presence of the relic of a saint and in the presence of Our Lord shared in His Word and broken in the Eucharist, let us call to mind our sins …
Today Capernaum is the modern city of Tell Hum, on the northwest shore of the lake of Galilee. A synagogue was excavated after the First World War; it’s not thought to be the one Jesus walks into in this morning’s text from St. Mark, but the synagogue that immediately followed it, built probably in 200AD. Capernaum offers Jesus a reference point. We all need reference points, starting points. Jesus starts his public ministry from Capernaum and it’s hinterland. He calls it “his own city”. It was here he cured the centurions son; the man with the withered hand and resolved a dispute on temple tax. Capernaum, very definitely gave Jesus his reference point. In many ways if Capernaum was the home city of Jesus; Kildare is the home place of Brigid.
Today we have brought her home! At least a relic taken from the bone fragment of her head, which rests in the church of St. John the Baptist in Lumiar outside Lisbon., having been brought there by three Irish knights in 1273, who are also believed to be buried within the church. Obtaining the relic of a saint like Brigid is no easy feat. I visited Lumiar in October 2021 with the singular intention of securing a relic for St. Brigid’s Church. I was privileged then to hold the relic of her head which is contained in a splendid brass casket. Sadly I couldn’t squeeze it into my Ryan Air flight bag!
The veneration and cult of saints became a notable feature of the church from almost the beginnings of Christianity. Many walk the Camino de Santiago without realising the relics of St. James are there in the Cathedral at Compostella. I have great memories of the relic of St. Oliver Plunkett in St. Peter’s Church on West Street in Drogheda. Like Brigid at Lumiar, it is the head of St. Oliver that is venerated in Drogheda. Mind you the prison door from Tyburn along the side wall of the church is an equally stark reminder of the gruesome death the Meath man endured.
With our early saints it’s always hard to divide fact from fiction, The process of formal canonisation was not established until 1159, so many of our early saints – Brigid, Patrick, Colmcille, Conleth and several others achieved sainthood by popular acknowledgement. As with many of those saints, the line between fact and fiction blurs with the passing of time. As Sr. Rita Minehan reminds us “the more one tries to unravel the mystery, the more the mystery deepens”.
So what might be the reference point for Brigid in today’s Kildare? It’s too simple to install a relic and leave it at that, she would call us to do much more! What were the character traits that defined St. Brigid of Kildare? To mention just a few, she was hospitable, she was a peacemaker, she was a strong woman of faith. It was here she established a monastery that in time would separately house men and women, Kildare was then a powerhouse of formation. How she secured the site for her monastery is a story well known to every school child in the country. The local chief told her she could have as much land as her cloak could cover. Her cloak was in time to cover the entire Curragh! I also think it’s significant that legend suggests she was born in a doorway, on a threshold. Tradition suggests that it was at Faughart, near Dundalk.
I think that image of a doorway speaks to us in the Kildare and Ireland of 2024. An Ireland of one hundred thousand welcomes, ceád míle failte, but sadly as recent evidence suggests, not always if you are fleeing persecution, war or trauma. The scenes on some of our streets and the misinformation that passes unverified on social media disturb, because this is not the hospitality that Brigid espoused. As the monk and local scholar Cogitosus would remind us, with Brigid “every guest is Christ”.
I found it ironic that where some protests were taking place, the buildings that were in question were in fact named after ‘St. Brigid’. What transpired at some of these buildings would be anathema to all that Brigid stands for. This is much more important than installing a relic, inculcating values that are championed by Brigid. The Brigidines and their team at Solas Bhríde allow the legacy of Brigid to continue to be nourished and explored and for this we are all very grateful. As we are to the Brigidines in Tullow for the gift of the relic.
St. Brigid’s Day in ancient times became the reference point for all the seasons that followed. It dictated the ploughing, the sowing, the turning of the sod. The feast was seen as a celebration of the incarnation of Christ into the all of life:
“in the milking of cows and the tending of the hearth,
In threading the loom and gathering the peat,
The breath of prayer blessing each movement,
A naming of Creator upon each mindful deed”.
May we ensure the creator is at the heart of all we do and say in the name of Brigid on this day of her homecoming to Cill Dara.
 Mt 9:1
 Mt 8:5-13
 Mk 2:1-12
 Mt 17:24-27
 Minehan, Rita CSB: ‘Rekindling the Flame’. Solas Bhríde, 2022, pg. 9.
 Rupp, Joyce: A Celtic Moment.