Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh’s homily at mass celebrated at 7.30pm 4th February 2023, Saint Brigid’s Oratory Shrine, Faughart, Co Louth.
This parish of Faughart in Co. Louth is the birthplace of St. Brigid one of the most celebrated Saints in Ireland and indeed in the wider Christian world. This weekend we celebrate for the first time a national holiday in her honour, and we begin our preparations in this diocese, the Archdiocese of Armagh, for the celebration of the 1500th anniversary of her life and work in 2024.
We recognise in Brigid a woman of strength, courage and deep faith who was so impressive and strong that she acquired the authority and breath of influence that was almost unheard of for a woman at that time. From her very earliest days here in Faughart, Brigid displayed a deep generosity of spirit that was very much at odds with the greed and self-centeredness in the society around her, a society still heavily influenced by the paganism that enveloped Celtic Ireland in darkness and superstition. The inner desire to be charitable was something Brigid carried with her all her life. Indeed, her father was going to sell her into slavery because he feared she would make him destitute so great was her generosity.
The qualities that made St. Bridget great have been found in so many women down through the centuries since. Some of them have been in religious life and have been extremely dedicated to their vocation and mission, but many of them have been women who in their homes, workplaces and communities helped to nurture and spread the faith. Without them the Church would have found it hard to survive and flourish. Their contribution is incalculable and the gratitude we owe them immense.
One aspect of Bridget’s life that we often forget is how young she was when she began to let the power of the gospel message influence her every action. When we examine the lives of so many of the great saints of the Church and indeed many of the great figures in the bible, we realise that they too were very young when they came under the influence, motivation, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, himself, picked young people to be his disciples because they were idealistic, energetic, physically strong, courageous, open to learning and open to new ideas. These were the qualities that Brigid too, seemed to have possessed in abundance.
The Synod on Youth, held in 2018, recognized that, unfortunately, today “a substantial number of young people, for all sorts of reasons, do not ask the Church for anything because they do not see her as significant for their lives”. Certainly, the Church needs to model itself on the example of Brigid and explain its doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society in a clear and courageous way. But it must, also, recognise that many people, particularly young people, want a Church that listens more. If it doesn’t it turns itself, as Pope Francis says, into a museum.
A Church, however, that stays young lets herself be challenged and spurred on by the sensitivities of young people and the challenges they face in a radically changed and changing world. It first works to bring them into a relationship with Jesus, who Himself is forever young, and then offers them an encounter with the radical and life changing message He offered.
Brigid was challenged by that radical message of Jesus. It changed her life completely, liberating her to serve others with passion and courage and helping her to establish on this island the life-giving and progressive power of Christian faith. It’s radical message of justice, genuine equality and selfless love motivated her deeply because it provided a counterbalance to the negative forces that dominated the culture she lived in.
Today we suffer from a lack of energy and vitality that comes from letting the Church in this country grow tired and uninspiring. In Brigid we have an example of a woman who can inspire the young and indeed all of us to be reinvigorated by the good news of the Gospel which never grows old.
May our reengagement with this young woman of faith in the years ahead reinvigorate our enthusiasm so that the light of Christ may illuminate the dark corners of our world and, in the midst of all the pessimism and negativity about the future, bring us what we need most of all – the gift of hope.