Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16 - Brendan of Clonfert, Monastic, Student of the Greats, Navigator

Brendan was born in the country of Ireland, the county of Kerry, and the city of Tralee. Like so many other Irish boys near the turn from the fifth to the sixth century, he was raised in a Christian home and put to bed at night hearing the stories of Patrick the Great who had returned to the island that Brendan and his family loved so dearly. After all, Patrick had been a missionary and had ignited furious passion for missions among the Irish Christians. Furthermore, Brendan was born when Brigid was already about her calling and life's work among the monastics. He surely heard the good things that this wonderful woman was doing and must have spent some of that peaceful time right before sleep and during our most vivid daydreams imagining a life for himself like hers. Some stories suggest that when Brendan was born a chorus of angels accompanied the moment to announce its importance and his significance for the future of Irish Christianity. He was baptized by the bishop Ercwhen he was but a baby and when he was ready to begin his education he was sent to Ita (the woman who would become known as the "Brigid of Munster") in Killeedy for her careful guidance and teaching.

After several years at the knee of Ita he was sent back to receive the remainder of his education and training from the hand of Erc in Tralee. This was a powerful experience for Brendan but as he aged and began to experience the strengthening of his own calling he desired to travel and study under yet more great Christian leaders and teachers. Erc gave his approval but made one significant request: Brendan should return for his eventual ordination. Brendan honored Erc'srequest after several more years of study under the great Irish minds including Finnian of Clonard, Enda of Aran, and Jarlath of Tuam. He was ordained at the age of twenty-six and went out into the Irish countryside with missions in mind and monasteries to build. Because of his masterful education he soon became a master in his own right and attracted many disciples to himself. They built monasteries in several places (including Ardfert,Shanakeel, and at the foot of Brandon Hill) and Brendan oversaw their development and expanding mission. He even appointed his sister as abbess over one of the monasteries. He became known throughout Ireland as a master of Christian spirituality and a peer of Patrick and Brigid.

Near the end of his life he had a vision in which God called him to do something preposterous: to travel far from Ireland. For a man with as much influence in Irish life as Brendan had this seemed to be a disastrous idea. To travel far away would be to abandon the work he had done for a people who would not know him and who would not give him any of the respect or attention that he naturally received in Ireland. But, he was loyal to God's will and willing to do God's work. So, he gathered to himself sixty of his closest disciples and prepared a boat for travel. Their first voyage was a colossal failure so they stopped to regroup. After praying and fasting for forty days, they set out again and traveled for nearly seven years aboard their boat. They landed in Iceland and Greenland and may have gone as far as the North American continent. Though this seems unlikely, recent tests have even proven that it's possible with the ship that they built. Along the way, they shared the faith that motivated them and expanded the Kingdom of God into places where it had never seen the light of day. As his days drew short, he returned to Ireland (stopping first in Scotland and Iona) and founded yet one more monastery at Annaghdown. It was in this monastery where he finished his days teaching his disciples and guiding the shape of Christianity in an increasingly new world.

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