22 May 2018
Dear St. Mark’s Community;
As we prepare to turn the calendar to June and really get into the summer season, I’d like to take a bit of time to reflect on my favorite Celtic Saint (maybe my all time favorite saint) Brendan the Navigator. I believe that Brendan’s life of faith, courage and adventure may have lessons for we at St Mark’s as we set forth on a journey of discernment about the future life, mission and ministry of our community.
Brendan was born in County Kerry in Ireland in the village of Fenit near Tralee adjacent to the Dingle Peninsula in 484 CE. He was baptized by Bishop Erc of Ardfert and dedicated to the church by his parents and raised by a nun named Ita. Ita’s grave is on the site of Brendan’s baptism.
After a profound call and a deepening of his conversion during an experience on Hungry Hill in County Cork on the Beara Peninsula, he established monastic quarters at the foot of Mt. Brandon on near Dingle, in Ardfert and in Clonfert in County Galway. Brendan’s monastic community, like that of St. Brigid, housed both men and women, unlike the vast majority of those in mainland Europe.
Brendan’s most enduring legacy is detailed in the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. This written legend details the seven-year journey of Brendan and companions chosen from among those in his monastery to set out to a place Brendan had heard of from another monk who called it The Promised Land.
The journey across the seas by Irish pilgrim saints is not unusual. Preceded by Columba, Columcille and others, Brendan fits into the tradition of the ‘white pilgrims’ who set out on the seas in coracles, leather-hulled boats without rudder or sails and trusted the winds, waves and Spirit of God to lead them to the site of their missionary adventures. These pilgrims or ‘white martyrs’ (indicating exile) knew that they would likely never see their homelands again.
Brendan was different. Brendan set out with a destination, albeit an amorphous one, in mind. He also built and provisioned a craft large enough for at least 14 other monks. His boat, a curragh, was made of oak, elm and oxhide and had sails and a rudder. The Dingle people of Ireland, being good sailors, knew how to navigate.
Sometime between 512 and 530 Brendan set out on two journeys, the second of which would last seven years and made a repeated cyclical voyage that followed the rhythm of the liturgical calendar. The particulars of the second journey are fascinating and informative. There is evidence to suggest that perhaps Brendan and his companions reached North America fully 900 years before Columbus.
What might be informative for us and help us to understand the journey that we are on is that Brendan chose to travel in community, he returned to share the story of the journey just as the earlier pilgrim monk did with him.
We are embarking on a journey that is the result of the circumstances of the church in this age. Just as the church grew and changed over the centuries due to the context of its mission, so are the Church in the 21st Century faced with new circumstances that require us to adapt so that we might seek where God has called us to go in order that we might share the faith that is in us.
The boat that we are climbing into, like Brendan’s, has sails, a rudder and a community with a shared vision of what is possible if a group of people commit themselves to prayer, trust in the wind of the Holy Spirit and keep their home firmly placed in the grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Set firmly in the liturgical tradition of the Church, bound by prayer and nourished by the mystical Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we can be assured of God’s presence and blessing on the journey, regardless of the ultimate destination.
As we embark on our journey of discernment about where and to what God is calling us, perhaps we could offer this prayer regularly as individuals and as a community. This is Brendan’s Prayer….
Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honor? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea? O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
(Ascribed to Saint Brendan the Navigator before sailing across the Atlantic.)
--Padre Warren +