There are two types of Irish person, I think. The first is the home-bird, and comprises the majority of Irish men and women. They are attached to the local place and if they venture too far away they get homesick and want to get back as soon as possible. In the early years of Irish Christianity when the monks wanted to embrace suffering and martyrdom they went on the missions, into what they saw as "voluntary exile" in the service of Christ and the Gospel. Heading out into the unknown, they settled in various places in continental Europe and founded great monasteries which would re-evanglise the continent. Plagued with homesickness, however, this was a white martyrdom for them.
Then there is the second type, the Irish man or woman who can't wait to get out of the place. And while these are a minority, we have some notable examples: Sean O'Casey, James Joyce, Samuel Becket. They found Irish life too oppressive and felt the need to get on a boat and go elsewhere. For this type of Irish person the white martyrdom occurs when they have to come back.
Today in Ireland we celebrate the feast of one who might be more at home with the second group of Irish people than the first: St Brendan the Navigator, who as soon as he able took to the seas and sought adventure for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, that is a real concept: adventure for the sake of the Gospel. He was born in Kerry but educated by St Finnian (our diocesan patron) in Clonard here in Meath. He seems have wandered around Ireland for a bit before convincing his monk companions to get into a boat with him and set off to proclaim the Gospel in places unknown. Many stories of his adventures are preserved in ancient manuscripts, and in one of them we are told that he sailed due west and discovered a new, vast land. Yes, my dear friends in the US and Canada, it was not Christopher Columbus who "discovered" America, it was this restless Irish monk!
Brendan would eventually settle down in the Irish midlands, in Clonfert, found a monastery there and rule as Abbot for ten years before his death. However, I wonder if his adventurous soul could ever settle down? Did the monks of Clonfert ever have to dissuade their aging Abbot from setting out on another adventure?
Being a Christian is meant to be an adventure. I love G. K. Chesterton because his approach to the faith and living it is one of an exciting adventure. He cherished orthodoxy because it was exciting, radical - heresy is boring - it is the exercise of bored, unimaginative minds categorizing mysteries so they will be acceptable and tame. Living life according to the orthodox faith brings one into the heart of mystery where you know you are not in control, but God is and he is leading you on the journey of a lifetime to lands of mystery and wonder. The spiritual life is an adventure, as St Teresa of Avila teaches us, it is as fascinating as a child let loose in a fabulous castle and told to go and explore: find the king who sits in the room of treasures. It is not boring and there are challenges, what challenges!
In St Brendan we have one who had the spirit of Chesterton and the spirituality of St Teresa. The faith and the Church were one great adventure for him and he wanted to share that with those he met on his journeys, and in this he was sanctified. In these years of the New Evangelisation we should try to recapture this spirit of adventure, to jump into the mystery that is our faith, and promote orthodoxy and the spiritual life as a way of life which opens our eyes rather than closes them. Each morning, when we wake, we must surely thank God for another day in which we can continue this adventure with him and try to live it as well as we can: to put out into the deep with the spirit of St Brendan and to hear him say, as no doubt he said to his monks many times: "Right lads, get up, we're going..."
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