Through The Year With Irish Saints

I was the guest speaker at Veritas Ireland's zoom launch of Through the Year with Irish Saints by Stella Durand, who is a member of the newly formed new monastic community Cairde Ananama (affiliated to the international Community of Aidan and Hilda). You can buy copies from www.veritasonline. Here is the text of my talk:

Ireland, with Armenia, can claim to be the first nation on earth to become so soaked in the love of Christ that it became a land of saints and scholars. Some of her Druid prophets had welcomed this fresh light that was to come.

This land of saints and scholars produced its own Twelve Apostles of Ireland – albeit with a rich variety of lists! For early Ireland, despite thinking of herself as on the edge of the world, did not suffer from a worthless self image. If Jesus had twelve apostles for Judea, he would also have twelve apostles for Ireland. And, spotting the role of spiritual foster mothers hidden in Luke’s Gospel, they proudly announced that Ireland would also have its twelve spiritual foster mothers - wise women whose wisdom and mentoring was the envy of the world.  Ita – whose name means thirst for holiness-  became known as the foster mother of the saints of Erin.

Saints Brigid, and Comgall, abbot of Bangor’s three thousand brothers, taught that a person without a soul friend is like a body without a head. Many of Stella 366 saints were soul friends. And today, people across the world are being inspired by them to re-learn the arts of soul friendship, as I realised recently when people from three continents joined a zoom course on soul friendship.

I love the legend that when Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead he leapt across the world and wherever his shadow fell became a holy place. His shadow fell on so many places all over Ireland that it had more holy places than anywhere else in the world! This book names 366 of them.

For Stella has a vignette about a different saint for every day of the year. Her reflections have humour but are perceptive and helpful to the reader.  She asks some superb questions. Am I material that a soul friend could be made of? Am I trustworthy enough to be put in charge of a project? She tells of Saint Canair who saw a blaze above every faith community in Ireland, and asks How bright a blaze are we making?

Fiacre, 30 August, the patron saint of gardening, who went to Europe’s mainland where Paris taxis are still named after him: my nephew named his son Fiacre and moved to Europe, and he must have presaged Stella’s prayer to make him green fingered for he studies permaculture. Yes, many of these saints cry out to be befriended by Extinction Rebellion campaigners. These green saints lived what they talked about.

One of Ireland’s Twelve Apostles was Brendan. I’ve followed his footsteps around Dingle and at Clonfert, but alas have not voyaged as did Tim Severin to North America. Severin, however, only got to Novia Scotia. My USA friends who work in a ministry to the indigenous Hopi people told me of a reviving myth that Brendan sailed over 4,000 miles to a bay near the Mississipi river in order to create a new Eden. He was humble however, and when the Indians welcomed them, fed them and told them of their spiritual heritage he realized that Jesus was already there, and so they sailed 4,000 miles back to Ireland. That myth has become a book about post-colonial theology, Brendan’s Return Voyage: a New American Dream. For this revival of interest in Irish saints speaks to the world’s First Nation people - Christianity in Ireland was indigenous and free from colonial superstructure during its early centuries.

The many saints in the Brendan genre who sought to find or fashion a new Eden drew their theology from early Church Fathers such as Athanasius and Chrysostom, who taught that when Jesus immersed himself in the muddied waters of Jordon river this was not only the Word of God restoring a relationship with humans (Adam) but also with creation (Eden). That is why so many of these saints Stella writes about had fellowship with animals and nature and looked for their place of resurrection.  And its why so many, like St. Scuthin of Slieve Margy frequently bathed in cold water. Colonial Christianity of the second millennium exploited and neglected creation: our Irish saints call us in the third millennium not just to stop destroying the planet, but to nurture communion between creation with Christ at its heart.

Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, and a host of brothers and sisters who did crafts there for centuries remains an inspiration. After leading a Healing the Land service there someone told me that when John Paul 2 visited it he asked to be left alone. He was found in tears. In tears that brothers had gone to his native Poland to establish the Faith there, and now it was nothing but a ruin.  But – dear John Paul – be of good cheer.  Stella’s book is a sign and a call for an uprising of saints in the third millennium that might dwarf even the first great flowing of Ireland’s holy and risen ones in the first millennium.

Many in Ireland are in grief that having received papal protection during the centuries of British oppression, they have suffered so much from clerical abuse. Yet countless women who will no longer kow tow to wolves in sheep’s clothing are nevertheless re-kindling their spirituality, focusing on meditation and becoming pilgrims for the love of God.  Before the pandemic I spent a day at Ardfert, near the remains of Saint Declan’s monastery, with pilgrim’s who had walked St. Declan’s Way but who wanted to become inner pilgrims every day of their lives.

There is an entry for Columbanus, Columbanus, who John Paul 2 said should be co-patron of Europe with Benedict, wrote to the errant Pope Boniface: that the Irish Christians Irish were the best catholics in the world, but they wish to reform things that went wrong, such as rival adulterous popes who, if they did not repent, would forfeit the authority Christ gave to Peter.

Today’s entry in Through the Year with Irish Saints features Emer, daughter of Patrick’s former slave owner Miluic. He was so ashamed of his treatment of Patrick that he immolated himself. But his daughters were captivated by the expulsive power of a new affection and became nuns. So Rev. Dr. Lady Stella Durand, who is a member of Ireland’s new monastic movement Cairde Ananama, asks us if we totally disregard snobbery and class distinctions for which there is no room in the Christian church.

The 366 saints who feature in this splendid book, the little ones and the famous ones alike, call us to journey together, Catholics and Protestants,  Orientals and Orthodox, disappointed believers and would-be believers, as no longer strangers but pilgrims together for a world that becomes brimful with saints and scholars.


Posted at 19:22pm on 10th December 2020
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