Today is the annual commemoration of St. Brendan of Clonfert, whose name (in an anglicized version) I bear. Tomorrow, God willing, we will offer the Holy Eucharist in his honor (this year, Tuesday is our 25th wedding anniversary).
If you did not grow up in a tradition that made much of the saints, or if sanctity is for you something remote and “other-wordly,” the significance of a name-saint may not be clear. Though I grew up in a different branch of Christianity, one which did not keep the “sanctoral calendar,” I had a natural sense of the role and presence of the saints… if only because that language and mind-set flowed through my mother’s Sicilian background into our home life.
I first experienced Anglican worship on the Solemnity of All Saints’ and perceived the palpable presence of the Saints in the liturgy that day. Since then, I have always understood that the Saints are all the members of Christ’s Body, the Church. I have also come to know the power of their witness and their intercession. While not feeling the need to go into the minutia of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, I certainly accept its mystical and practical dimensions, and rejoice in them.
St. Brendan was a great traveler, as well as a monastic. His life was one of moving always toward the Kingdom of God… spiritually and physically. The Navigatio, the great record of his travels, was one of the most popular books during the medieval period. Many of the stories in it are wild and astounding. Many of them teach very subtle lessons about truth, inner conformity to Christ, and the need for a grounded, practical faith rooted in prayer and humility.
When I was in Ireland on pilgrimage, I was not able to go to Clonfert, the site usually associated with St. Brendan. However, I was able to go to Inish Mohr, and there visit one of the monasteries St. Brendan went to in preparation for making his great journey. There, I found a sense of peace and solidarity with one after whom I was named (for no particular reason, it turns out), a person so vastly different—and yet so readily understandable because I share his faith in the Risen Christ. That sense of continuity-in-difference is just one of the great gifts we come to know by learning to “live among the saints,” especially the ones whose names we bear.
A Collect for St. Brendan’s Day
O God, by whose grace your servant Brendan, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.