Bishop's Column

St. Brigid’s Greatest Miracle: Fruitful Obedience to God’s Call

Irish Catholic tradition abounds with tales of Saint Brigid of Kildare, a fifth- and sixth-century nun whose feast day falls on Feb. 1. Accounts of her life overflow with miracles, prophecies, healings, and other great feats. Even faithful Catholic historians have found it difficult to sift out solid facts from poetic embellishments.

There is wisdom—and beauty—in the folklore. It is said that Brigid gave away her pagan father’s sword to a beggar; that in her youth she met St. Patrick, who prophesied that she would continue his work; that she asked a king to grant as much land for a monastery as her mantle would cover – and when he agreed, Brigid’s cloak expanded to fill the horizon!

The legends about Brigid may well be true, for "with God all things are possible."

But the clear historical facts about St. Brigid are even more impressive than the legends. This holy nun’s greatest miracle was her zealous obedience to God’s will, which bore amazing fruit during her life, and after her death.

With support from her religious sisters, and guidance from the bishops of the Church, Brigid transformed Irish monasticism into a distinct and disciplined movement. Her efforts helped Ireland to leave its pagan past behind and become the "island of saints and scholars."

Today, amid new challenges to the faith, St. Brigid of Kildare shows us the surpassing importance of consecrated religious vocations. From her, women and men can learn to heed God’s call, and devote their lives to renewing the Church.

Brigid was born in approximately 450, the offspring of a pagan chieftain and a Christian slave. She was born into difficult circumstances. But God had great plans for the child.

Raised a Catholic by her mother, Brigid worked as a servant in her father’s house. Her strong faith was a source of conflict from the beginning. After she was granted freedom, Brigid caused more trouble by refusing to marry.

But Brigid insisted on giving her life completely to Christ. Her father eventually gave her the means to found a small community with seven women.

Even in the time of St. Patrick, who died around 461, God was calling many Irish faithful to consecrated celibacy. But the country’s monastic system was improvisational and unorganized. Convents did not yet exist in Ireland, so consecrated women had to make individual arrangements with benefactors, clergy, and fellow religious.

With guidance from two bishops – first Saint Mel of Ardagh, and later Saint Conleth of Kildare – Brigid led an effort to give shape and permanence to Irish monasticism.

Her journeys and labors were impressive, and so were the results. Ancient estimates say that the monasteries she founded were home to more than 10,000 consecrated women, and thousands of consecrated men—the monks, nuns, and priests who led Ireland’s Catholic transformation.

Brigid stands out as a joyful ascetic and a hardworking contemplative, a shining example of both the Celtic spirit and the Catholic soul.

St. Brigid’s life is not just a piece of history. It witnesses to the importance of consecrated religious vocations in forming a rich Catholic culture.

Her achievements challenge us to support the Church’s religious orders. As their members help us with their prayers, we should also help them – through our financial support, and by encouraging vocational discernment. Consecrated life is a spiritual wellspring, all the more necessary in our secularized society.

Brigid’s influence over the centuries also illustrates the value of tradition in religious life. Few things convey the power and beauty of our faith more eloquently than the sight of women religious in their full, traditional habits, which make the ideal of holiness visible. It is wonderful to see this so often in our diocese! I have been overwhelmed by the joyful witness of these holy women, brides of Christ, who serve the Church so faithfully and so obediently here in Lincoln.

On Feb. 2, the day after St. Brigid’s feast, the Church celebrates the Presentation of the Lord, while also observing the World Day for Consecrated Life. With Brigid’s boldness, let us pray that we may help men and women discover their calling to this sacred way of life.

Most especially, we can all learn from Brigid’s cooperation with God’s grace, and the amazing fruit it produced.

If we are generous with God’s gifts, and supportive of religious vocations, Nebraska can also become a "land of saints and scholars." We can all begin like St. Brigid of Kildare did: by seeking, and following, the will of God for our lives.

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