Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Monastic Life of Saint Kevin

June 3 is the feast of Saint Kevin of Glendalough. As I mentioned in last year's post, Canon O'Hanlon has an exhaustive account of the saint in Volume VI of his Lives of the Irish Saints, including descriptions of miracles attributed to him. These illustrate many facets of the monastic life pursued by the saint, bearing witness, for example, to his life of asceticism and prayer, to monastic hospitality, and to encounters with both demons and angels. Another motif is the tension between Saint Kevin's desire to live a life of solitude and the demands of his community. In this first miracle we see many of these themes combined:

The Expulsion of the Demons from Glendalough

After the term of four years, many holy men assembled together, and drew persuasively St. Kevin from his place of retreat, although much against his inclinations; for, there he wished to dwell, until he should be called to his reward in the next life. It seems, that he lived too austere a life when alone. His friends therefore compelled him to reside among his monks, in that monastery, to which allusion has been already made. One day, after he had resolved on this change of residence, St. Kevin took his station on a stone without his monastery. There, the devil transforming himself into an Angel of light appeared. With apparent modesty of demeanour, and in a very beautiful form, the demon said to our saint : "Hail, O holy man of God ; behold, I am sent to thee by the Lord, that I may give thee counsel. Already thou hast sustained great labour, and the holy Angels praise thee, in the sight of God. The Lord hath ordered thee in love, to depart from this rocky valley, and to seek a place more habitable for thy monks after thee." Pretending to bless St. Kevin, the devil immediately vanished, after communicating these fallacious orders. Deceived by the modest and beautiful appearance of the demon, Kevin felt greatly perplexed, on hearing this message. For, if it were true, that his life had been pleasing to God and to the Angels in this place : he knew, also, that the Almighty could provide means of living for his servants, at all times, and in all places. Wherefore, he said :" With the permission of God, I will finish my mortal course, in this valley, whether my life be praised by an Angel or by a demon." Afterwards, with a number of wicked spirits, Satan went beyond the mountain called Tuayd, in the Ulster province, and in the northern part of Ireland. Here, he appeared to the Abbot Comgall, who said to him :" Whence hast thou come, Satan." The devil answered : "I have come from the territories of Leinster, and from the valley of the two Lakes, where austere Kevin dwells. In that place, with his baneful company, that man hath been greatly and incessantly injuring my followers, for seven whole years. Afterwards, I went to him, and persuaded him to leave his place. But, my representations did not avail, for his fortitude hath overcome all my powers. Now, I and my family, must depart foiled to our place of habitation. Our standards are broken by him, as we must proclaim ; yet, we still wish to tempt him." Then, St. Comgall said to him: "Satan, return with my monks to St. Coemgen. Thou shalt approach him, neither before nor after, but simultaneously with them ; and, thou shalt manifest to him thy wiles and plots, against him, my monks being present. Thus, I command thee, in the name of Christ." St. Comgall's monks then coming to St. Kevin, Satan appeared at the same time with them. The devil told our saint all things, after the manner in which he had been directed, by the holy Abbot of Bangor. Whereupon, giving thanks to God, and blessing his friend St. Comgall, our holy Abbot ordered the devil, that he should, thenceforward and for ever, remove his wicked companions from that happy valley. On hearing St. Kevin's orders, with a terrible howling the demons departed from Glendalough, and saying at the same time, that they should never more take up their station within it. After this departure of the demons, that rock on which they were accustomed to alight fell into pieces. These were precipitated into the Lake, and with a great noise. Blessed Kevin, as we are informed, had been engaged at prayer, to effect this miracle, at the time of its occurrence.

An Angel Vanquishes the Monster of the Lake

St. Kevin is said to have prayed each night, for a full hour, surrounded by the Lake waters, in that place where he stood. A monster frequenting the Lough, according to a legend, was accustomed to swim around his body, without offering him any violence. The servant of God bore all this with patience, for a long time. To reward his virtues, the Almighty sent an Angel, at last, to assist him, and to relieve him from what he saw and endured. For three principal reasons, the Angel was despatched to his assistance :—First, that he might be relieved from his many self-imposed labours; secondly, that the monster might be repelled ; and thirdly, that the cold water might be rendered warm. For, on the Angel of the Lord coming to him each night, the monster retired. Then, reposing on his bosom, that Angel caused the Lake water to lose its naturally cold temperature, and to become warm.

Dinner for the Reapers

One day in autumn, our saint's superiors collected many reapers for their harvest. An abundance of flesh meat and beer had been prepared for these labourers. Having been appointed to serve his turn for this day, in the kitchen, a great crowd of pilgrims arrived, and these asked Kevin for food, in the name of Christ. Full of compassion, he entreated the cooks to bestow on these strangers the reapers' food, which had been prepared. St. Eogoin sent to the workmen saying, that they should come to dinner. But, St. Lochan, hearing what had occurred, went to the kitchen. He addressed these words to Kevin : " O good youth, what hast thou done without our orders? There are many reapers, and they justly deserve a good dinner, for they have wrought a good day's work; and, we would have given other food to the pilgrims." On hearing this reproach, falling on his knees, the holy youth besought pardon. The pious senior went outside the kitchen. Kevin then closed it, and ordered the attendants to collect all the bones, and to fill with water all those vessels, which before had contained beer. Afterwards, he desired the cooks to retire, and then he prayed with great fervour. Immediately, through favour of Heaven, the water is stated to have become wine, while the bones were covered with an abundance of excellent flesh meat. Then, calling the chief cook, our saint showed him the miracle, that had taken place. Instantly, the cook hastened with an account of this event, to his pious superiors in the monastery. These seniors glorified God, whose Almighty power was manifested in this miracle, and then they blessed their holy disciple, who had been made an instrument, for procuring such a great abundance of excellent food and drink. Three days in succession, there was a sufficiency for all reapers, pilgrims, and brothers, who remained in the place.

The Counsel of Garbhan the Hermit

One day, the devotion of Kevin had it in contemplation, to make a pilgrimage alone, and for some considerable distance. Holding this purpose in mind, he left his monastery. But, a holy hermit, named Garban, or Garbhan, on seeing him alone, said: " O servant of God, whither art thou bound? It is better for thee to remain in one spot, serving the Lord, than to go about from place to place, in thy old age ; for, thou hast heard, that no bird, while flying, can hatch her eggs." Hearing this, the holy Abbot felt some degree of compunction, and he promised to return to his place.

Returning from St. Garban, holy Kevin went to the venerable senior Berchan, who was blind, that they might hold conferences together on some sacred subject. St. Berchan had a divine admonition, concerning the approach of his guest, and he said prophetically to his disciples : "O my children, quickly prepare a bath for the holy and venerable old man, Kevin, who is on his way towards us." After our saint's arrival, Berchan said : "Holy Father, wash thy body in this bath, prepared for thee, by Divine monition." Kevin replied : "Indeed, father, from the time I resolved upon a religious life, in my youthful days, to this time, I have never bathed, but in cold water, that I might chastise my body ; however, on thy account, and for the sake of that God, whose servant thou art, I will bathe." Whilst our saint was laving himself in the bath, Berchan desired his servant, to bring St. Kevin's wooden shoes to him. After an inspired manner, we are told, St. Berchan saw the tempter of man upon them. He then asked the demon, why he had dared to enter the holy man's shoes. Satan answered :" The demons can persuade him to do nothing, but by presenting their temptations, under some appearance of good, and hence, I entered his shoes, persuading him to make a pilgrimage, and to desert his place. This was an evil act, disguised under the appearance of good." Saying these words, the demon cried out, in a loud manner, requesting that he might be permitted to depart thence ; for, in the presence of God's saints, he felt himself deprived of power. His request was complied with, and then he vanished from sight. Afterwards, St. Kevin and St. Berchan entered upon a holy conference; and, while the latter remained within his cell, fearing and loving God, the former returned to his monks glorifying the Divine name.

The Nun Cassayr Makes New Garments for Saint Kevin

A certain holy virgin, named Cassayr, daughter to Aedha, on seeing the holy old man Kevin in the air, and clothed with rough skins, asked him in God's name, to receive better garments from her. But, the servant of God rejected them, lest Satan might tempt him through avarice. The virgin felt sorrowful, on account of his refusal. She afterwards placed herself, with all her religious daughters and her monastery, under the rule of St. Kevin. Then, the Angel of the Lord, taking his rough vesture from the holy old Abbot, who was decrepid, clothed him with garments offered by the virgin. Wherefore, St. Kevin, St. Cassayr, and her nuns, returned thanks to God, on account of what had occurred.

The Last Days of Saint Kevin

About the close of our saint's career, as his Acts narrate, a holy man named Mocherog —who was by birth a Briton—seems to have had intimate spiritual relationship with the illustrious Abbot. Having now attained a most venerable age, St. Kevin wished to pass out of this life, to be with Christ. From his infancy to his declining years, he always ran in the Commandments of God without blame, in holiness, and in justice, adorned with many virtues, and performing various miracles. Now, he called together twelve of his most religious brethren, and he sent them to the place, where the Apostle of Ireland stood, when his hymn had been sung three several times. These holy monks betook themselves to that spot, indicated by the venerable Abbot. Here, according to his orders, they prayed, that the Lord would grant his petition to our saint. However, they received no intimation, whatever, regarding its object. On ending their prayer, they returned to the venerable superior. Knowing their request had been granted, he told them, that he had asked to be released from the prison of his body, and that the Lord had formerly told him, he should not pass out of life, until he preferred such a request and of his own accord to the Almighty. Hearing this, the brethren felt very sorrowful. But, our saint consoled them, by saying, that hitherto he had seen God's kingdom, while living in the flesh. He encouraged them, likewise, to observe diligently his Rule, and all God's Commandments. Afterwards, elevating his hands, he blessed them and their place.

When St. Kevin had consoled his monks and imparted his benediction, his thoughts were solely devoted to preparation for his departure from that place, so endeared to him by religious associations; and, he now turned his mind, on the abiding home he sought for in Heaven. He then received Christ's most Sacred Body and Blood, from the hands of St. Mocherog. His monks stood around, in tears and lamentations, when their venerable superior breathed his last. Having lived, in this world, according to common report, for the extraordinary and lengthened period of one hundred and twenty years, he departed to join choirs of Angels and Archangels, in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

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Χρήστος said...

God bless you. Saint Kevin pray for us to the Lord.

Marcella said...

Blessings of the Feast.