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Evening Prayer on St Brigid’s Day, Carlow Cathedral 2024

Feast of St. Brigid

Bishop Denis’ Words of Welcome:

We come together at the end of this historic day which celebrates one of the Patrons of our Diocese, St. Brigid. I particularly felt it was important to gather with you the religious of the diocese, with our priests and people on this the beginning of a year that marks the 1500th Anniversary of St. Brigid’s death.

In the backdrop to my Episcopal Chair there are the carvings of Ss Brigid, Conleth and Laserian, with St. Brigid occupying centre place, holding a crozier in her hand. She was a deeply respected authority in her time. And the chair sits in the centre of a floor pattern of a St. Brigid’s Cross, reminding me and all of us of the very origins of Christian worship in this diocese.

On the eve of the Day for Consecrated Life, we celebrate the religious of our diocese, many of you inspired by St. Brigid, by the values that inculcated her life. Values such as welcome, inclusion, hospitality and generosity.

We sang together as our Procession entered the Bernadette Farrell composition ‘Christ be our light’. Each of the verses speak to us of St. Brigid and what she championed: light, truth, peace, hope, food, shelter.

While the gift of the splendid relic from the Brigidines in Tullow to St. Brigid’s Church in Kildare was universally welcomed last Sunday, a more important welcome should be each and every one of us living those values close to Brigid’s heart.

On a day when three Carlow families are traumatised in grief, following last night’s accident, we pray that St. Brigid will surround each of those families with her mantle of love, compassion and care as we the wider community support them over the coming days, weeks and months …     

So on this …    

Reflection by Mary Linehan:

My name is Mary Linehan and I am a member of Cairde Bhride. We are a group of men and women inspired by the values of St. Brigid and were formed to support the wonderful work of the Brigidine Sisters at Solas Bhride in Kildare Town, in unfolding the legacy of St. Brigid in a new way in a new Millenium.

I am a member of Cairde Bhride because I am irresistibly attracted to Divine Light. I was compelled to take the journey on January 31st to St. Brigid’s Well for the annual ritual as part of  the annual Feile Bhride. The Curragh is a portal in time. Huge chunks of this ancient landscape remain unchanged for 1500  years. Up ahead St. Brigid’s Cathedral shines like a citadel. Candlelight from glowing windows follow  me as the car turns left towards Solas Bhride where Brigid’s flame is tended since it was re-lit over 33 years ago.  If a town has a soul, then Kildare Town’s is a pilgrim  soul tonight. I follow the blazing lanterns out the Tully Road.  The wayside well is the meeting place. Jam jars with candles and pots of daffodils festoon the  place. Hundreds gather  together like a great ancestral  longing. And so…The ritual begins.

Behind all the mystic and mystery, how relevant is  the legacy of St. our Christian community  today when distraction has become an artform and you can get a spiritual soundbite to start your day on Tiktok?  We live in a time of great change but change has been around since the time of the Big Bang. Brigid herself was born at a time of major transition in 5th century Ireland- Christianity had only been introduced in the late 4th century by her contemporary, Patrick. Brigid was a contemplative but she was also a woman of action. The church Brigid founded in Kildare thrived until the suppression of  the monasteries in the 16th century.The Irish monk, Cogitosus who wrote “ A life Of Brigid” in 650 AD put great emphasis on her faith, her healing powers,her great skill with animals and above all ,her boundless compassion.  It is fitting to reflect on her legacy here in Carlow, being that  Daniel Delaney , Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin established the Brigidene Sisters on St. Brigid’s Day in 1807 a stone’s throw from here inTullow.  Tonight we reflect on some of our ancestral wisdom and share some of the values Brigid championed including ecological awareness, peace and social justice, equality and hospitality. I like to imagine that Daniel Delaney would be pleased.

Brigid- Model of Equality

Brigid held a unique place in the early Christian church.The dual monastery she founded was mixed accepting both men and women.Medieval  historian,  Dr. Niamh Wycherly writes about the challenges which faced Brigid at that time,“Along with children under 14, slaves and the insane, women were classed as “legally incompetent” and “senseless” in the Brehon law texts.  Luckily for us, the female leaders of religious communities were a notable exception.” For  Brigid and her successors to accomplish what they did requires courage,And courage is as  Maya Angelou said “  the  most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”. Saint Patrick had a national holiday declared in his honour in 1903.  We are delighted that one hundred and 20 years later St. Brigid has been granted a similar honour.This decision models the legacy of equality which Brigid espoused

Her legacy challenges both men and women to create a church and society where both sexes are equally respected.

Brigid was a woman of the land.

Brigid is remembered as a woman of the land.

One of the most popular legends about St. Brigid tells us that when she asked the King of Leinster for land on which to build her abbey, he reluctantly agreed to give her as much as her cloak would cover. Amazingly, her cloak expanded to cover a large area, now known as the curragh. There are those who might say that Brigid  with her careless attitude to planning permission would be a dab hand at sorting  the current accomadation crisis but the legend certainly shows us that Brigid believed in the radical  Brigidene mantra that “ Nothing is impossible to God”

St. Brigid’s Day marks  the beginning of Spring (Imbolc) according to the Celtic calendar. .We are moving from the darker time of the year.,  Spring is a time of new beginnings, new life. It is a time of hope and opportunity,   The earth is awakening from its winter sleep. It is an invitation to us too to take time for the inner journey, – what have we harvested and what do we need to let go of? What seeds do we want to plant so that they will  flourish as the light returns?.We are giving space for new pathways for a new vision to emerge…when the light returns…after the winter darkness.All we need to do is Trust.

St. Brigid was very much in tune with the changing seasons. Many of the stories about her tell of her milking the cows, making the butter, shepherding her flocks of sheep on the Curragh plains. At this time when planet earth is in danger,  I wonder what Brigid the earthwoman would do if she was alive today. Perhaps she would whisper  “ Wake up”!

 Wake up to the beauty all around us.

 – to the stars above us
 -To the air around us
-To the sound of running water
-To the wildness of the wind
-To the stillness of the evening
-To the darkness of the night
– To the interconnectedness of all things..

Thomas Berry said “The destiny of humans cannot be separated from the destiny of earth.It’s a question of story. We are in trouble now because we are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story..There is action to be taken in the outer world  but it must start with the action of  reconnecting with the sacred within.”

St. Brigid’s Day is a time to set intentions, under the influence of the potent, shifting seasonal energy of spring,”  It is a time to look back and honour what we have been composting in winter’s fallow time. And a time to nourish what we began to incubate.

It is a time for a new story to emerge -in God’s time.

Brigid- Peacemaker

St.Brigid was renowned as a peacemaker and one of the most popular stories associated with her is that of her giving away her father’s jewelled sword to a poor person so that he could barter it for food to feed his family.

Cynthis Bourgeault reminds us that: “We walk today in our own time with our own boots on”

Yesterday as I listened to the news that the DUP intends to go back into power-sharing in Stormont, I was reminded of the Peace Heroines Exhibtiton hosted at the U.N last summer which honoured the women of Northern Ireland.

It is fitting to consider the similarities between these women who played such an important role in the Peace Movement in Northern Ireland and the visionary, St. Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, and her successors. And I include the Brigidenes at Solas Bhride in this.  A spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that for Mr. Guterres it is clear that the women of Northern Ireland were trailblazers and visionaries and that without the active participation of women at the table and in civil society groups, we cannot have peace that is sustainable and peace that lasts. The experience of these women is replicated all over the world today especially where there is conflict, violence, famine, and inequality. Women who, like Brigid and her subsequent Abbesses and I quote, “turn back the streams of war”.

A call went out today from Solas Bhride to the world to Pause for Peace a 12 noon.   By pausing for peace, on St. Brigid’s Day  Kildare sent out a message that we actively oppose warfare and the proliferation of arms, which destroy human beings and the natural world. This movement aims to awaken and build a spirit of global solidarity in our search for peace.  4000 young people gathered on the curragh today to make a large Brigid’s Cross. What a powerful living legacy Brigid has created in a war weary world.

St. Brigid- A friend of the poor.  

One of my favourite times of the year as a schoolteacher was St. Brigid’s Day. The Nature table was cleared of all the dead winter leaves to make way for the buds, daffodils ,seedlings and the diagram of the life-cycle of a frog. Hope was in the air! Time to hoist our sails again!  Assembly was called on Febryuary 1st and  our principal Bryan O’ Reilly would enthusiastically lead the children in a rousing song to Bridget. “ All were welcomed at her door. No-one was turned away”. For Brigid every guest is Christ .Legend tells us that one day a rich lady gave Brigid a basket of apples and she got very angry as she watched Brigid give away the apples to a family that was poor and hungry.  “I brought those apples for you, not for them,” she said. Brigid replied to her and said: “Well, what is mine is theirs.”What a powerful reply.Our world has enough food for everyone. The problem is the unequal distribution of the world’s resources.

We are witnessing  one of the worst migration crisis in history.Wars in Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine. The poisonous work of far-right operators has been so effective that the instigators can now rest on their laurels. The opposite of fear is love. Brigid’s legacy calls us to love. And this call is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago.The two most read articles in The Irish Times on Monday of this week were- No.1-Poll shows immigration concern on the rise and No.2- St. Brigid’s relics return to Kildare. Brigid’d  life speaks to us in the 21st century.  We are called to extend a spirit of welcome and hospitality to our brothers and sisters who are fleeing war, poverty, persecution and climate devastation.  Brigid’s leadership, her words and her actions challenge all of us to hold the centre ground mindfully and with respect.

I believe there is no more perfect time  than now to shine a light on the feminine face of God.  The sacred  legacy of Brigid, a woman of faith, of leadership, of peace exemplifies everything that is good and true and eternal at the heart of living our faith today as a Christian community.  In working hard to create an inclusive church, she captured the imagination of a nation , creating a legacy that has lasted 1500 years.

For as long as we mortal beings yearn for connection with our sacred inner light, the legacy of st. Brigid will be alive. We ask her to show us the way.

And so we pray to St. Brigid

We have trudged through winter darkness towards your feast day.
 At your healing wells you gently accepted the humble chant of your children
For you could hear the silent flawless hymn of their need and their faith.
You make for us resonances with things nameless, deep, ancient, and to come.
Now it is we Saint Brigid, we of a later age,
Who by your ancient symbols,
 By their perennial meaning, invoke your aid in all things, changed and unchanging.
We call you, Saint Brigid, saint of the sheltering cloak to show us the way

The time is right
The time is now

Bishop Denis’ closing words of thanks

In these final words I’m not going to keep you long, except to offer a word of thanks to all of you for being here. I also thank:

The team in Faith Development Services for planning and designing this liturgy.

Fr. Liam and the Diocesan Choir (Marian & Julianne).

Mary Linehan for her very pertinent and excellent reflection.

Fr. Thomas and his team here for having the Cathedral so welcoming to all of us.

Janette in the sacristy and Anne and her team for looking after the decoration of the sanctuary.  

And finally the Cathedral Parish Hospitality Team who have laid on refreshments for us all in the Cathedral Parish Centre immediately after the final Hymn.