Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, c.525

Bridget (Brigid, Bride, Bridey) of Kildare was born around 450 into a Druid family, being the daughter of Dubhthach, court poet to King Loeghaire. At an early age, she decided to become a Christian, and she eventually took vows as a nun. Together with a group of other women, she established a nunnery at Kildare. She was later joined by a community of monks led by Conlaed. Kildare had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was kept perpetually burning, and Bridget and her nuns, instead of stamping out the fire, kept it going but gave it a Christian interpretation. (This was in keeping with the general process whereby Druidism in Ireland gave way to Christianity with very little opposition, the Druids for the most part saying that their own beliefs were a partial and tentative insight into the nature of God, and that they recognized in Christianity what they had been looking for.) Bridget as an abbess participated in several Irish councils, and her influence on the policies of the Church in Ireland was considerable.

Many stories of her younger days deal with her generosity toward the needy. This aspect of her character has been the subject of a poem:

"The Giveaway" (from THE LOVE LETTERS OF PHYLLIS MCGINLEY, New York, Viking Press, 1957)

  Saint Bridget was
  A problem child.
  Although a lass
  Demure and mild,
  And one who strove
  To please her dad,
  Saint Bridget drove
  The family mad.
  For here's the fault in Bridget lay:
  She WOULD give everything away.
  To any soul
  Whose luck was out
  She'd give her bowl
  Of stirabout;
  She'd give her shawl,
  Divide her purse
  With one or all.
  And what was worse,
  When she ran out of things to give
  She'd borrow from a relative.
  Her father's gold,
  Her grandsire's dinner,
  She'd hand to cold
  and hungry sinner;
  Give wine, give meat,
  No matter whose;
  Take from her feet
  The very shoes,
  And when her shoes had gone to others,
  Fetch forth her sister's and her mother's.
  She could not quit.
  She had to share;
  Gave bit by bit
  The silverware,
  The barnyard geese,
  The parlor rug,
  Her little
 niece-'s christening mug,
  Even her bed to those in want,
  And then the mattress of her aunt.
  An easy touch
  For poor and lowly,
  She gave so much
  And grew so holy
  That when she died
  Of years and fame,
  The countryside
  Put on her name,
  And still the Isles of Erin fidget
  With generous girls named Bride or Bridget.
  Well, one must love her.
  In thinking of her
  There's no denial
  She must have been
  A sort of trial
  Unto her kin.
  The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
  WHO had the patience of a saint,
  From evidence presented here?
  Saint Bridget?  Or her near and dear?

It is reported of Francis of Assisi that as a young man he had a dream in which God said to him, "Francis, repair my church." He took this to refer to a church building near Assisi which was in need of repair, and he sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to obtain building materials. His father was furious. Francis had not asked for permission: he simply took it for granted that his father would wish to contribute to such a worthy cause. It is said of Bridget that as a young girl she made similar assumptions about her family.

There is a problem here. On the one hand, it can be argued that if our family members do not choose to make sacrifices for God we have no right to make that choice for them. Some time ago, if I remember aright, one listmember wrote in considerable bitterness about a childhood that had been blighted by the decision of the father that it would be nice if the whole family lived in Christian Poverty. (Said listmember found no spiritual blessings in the experience, and saw no sign that anyone else did, emphatically including said father.)

On the other hand, I far more frequently hear Christians argue that their sacred duty to keep everything nice for their spouses and children prevents them, not only from going as missionaries to distant shores, but also from volunteering even quite moderate amounts of their time and money for worthy causes down the block. (Not that all unattached Christians are blameless in this regard.) You will note that Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians, told them that marriage, while instituted of God and a sign of the union between Christ and His Church, was not without its dangers to the spiritual life of the Christian. But the danger he saw had nothing to do with sex. He was concerned instead that the married are tempted to overvalue security, to feel that they cannot afford, for their families' sakes, to take chances. And since he expected Christians to be facing persecution soon, he saw this as a matter of urgency.

So, as I said, there is a problem here. I have no final answer to give, but commend it to your consideration.