Remembering the Saints (6)
She succoured many grievous diseases:
she loved many fastings,
the white sun of Munster’s women,
Ite the devout of Cluain.
- Oengus mac Oengobann, The Martyrology of Oengus
At the end of the year Bishop Erc took [young Brendan] to his foster-mother, Ita, and he was with her [five] years. And the nun loved him exceedingly, because she saw the attendance of angels above him, and the grace of the Holy Spirit evidently abiding on him.
- Anonymous, Life of Brendan of Clonfert
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your [heart] being enlightened…
- Ephesians 1.15-18
Fosterage was a practice employed by medieval Irish parents who hoped to see their children raised for service to the Lord. Not unlike Hannah with her son, Samuel, a child would be sent to a nearby school to enjoy the company of holy men and women and to learn the rudiments of faith. Thus, the parents of Brendan, who would grow to be known as “The Navigator”, sent him to Ita for his introduction to the spiritual life.
Ita was known to have the gift of second sight. She could “see” – not with eyes, obviously, but truly nonetheless – what most people seldom do, into the unseen realm where angels and saints assemble to worship God and do His bidding. The eyes of her heart were trained to see through the veil of unbelief into the larger reality of the spiritual world, where Jesus rules at the right hand of God (cf. Col. 3.1-3).
Ita didn’t come by this gift of second sight naturally. She had to discipline herself in a variety of ways. Through prayer and reading Scripture, she came to learn about angels, departed saints in glory, Christ on His throne, and so forth. She understood these realities were near, not far away and out of reach. Angels, she learned, attended to all God’s children, just as she “saw” them attending to Brendan. Her many fastings also taught her how to train both body and soul for an intense spiritual focus. Oengus referred to her as the “white sun” as a token both of her purity and of the Presence of Christ in her.
Ita’s gift of second sight made her more inclined to serve others. Not only was she the headmistress of a school and foster home, but she also attended to those who were sick and otherwise afflicted, to bring comfort and healing. When you see yourself and others surrounded by powerful spiritual beings who exist to serve us in our needs, you can’t help but want to join them in their sacred labors at every opportunity, whatever it takes.
When, later in life, Ita received Brendan from his failed first mission, she was immediately able to diagnose where he had gone wrong and to commend a course of action which allowed The Navigator to succeed in his calling.
Many Christians from the period of the Celtic Revival evidenced this ability to be continuously aware of the unseen realm and to be guided by some vision of it. The Scriptures offer clear guidance in thinking about Jesus, exalted in glory (Ps. 110, Rev. 1), angels passing between heaven and earth to care for God’s children, and a beautiful land of promise which is even now being prepared for all who believe in Jesus.
This vision of unseen things made for strong faith, ambitious and courageous mission, humble and servant-like lives, and joy and peace that nothing could blot out. Our faith will be strengthened to the extent that we take seriously the charge to set our mind on the unseen things of the world where Jesus rules in glory, and to allow the reality of that world to serve as the spiritual north star of our souls.
Like Ita and many others, believers in Jesus can see into a real world that exists all around us all the time, which by seeing, we derive hope, confidence, joy, humility, and strength to serve. Let the vision of things hoped-for but not yet seen become increasingly the vision that guides your faith day by day (Heb. 11.1)
1. How would you describe the state of your vision of the unseen realm at this time?
2. What could you do to clarify and enlarge that vision and to have it more continuously present before you?
Sing Psalm 110.1, 2.
(Aurelia: The Church’s One Foundation)
“Sit by Me at My right hand,” the LORD says to my Lord,
“until I make Your foot stand on all who hate Your Word.”
From in His Church the Savior rules all His enemies;
while those who know His favor go forth the Lord to please.
Open my eyes, Lord Jesus – the eyes of my heart – so that I can see…
Resources about Celtic Christians
To learn more about the Celtic Revival, order a free PDF copy of our book, The Celtic Revival: A Brief Introduction, by clicking here. You might also order a free copy of our book, The Legacy of Patrick, by clicking here. For longer excerpts of writings from the Celtic Revival, visit our Celtic Legacy webpage by clicking here. And, in the historical theology installments of our InVerse Theology Project, we’re exploring saints’ lives in more detail. You can begin listening by clicking here (scroll through to find more).
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.