Loving Service: Brigit, Butter, and Kindness

Service to the poor, sick, and oppressed is perhaps the teaching which Jesus emphasised the most in his life here on earth. To be a Christian is to love both our neighbours and our enemies. It is to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. It is to tend to the lepers, orphans, and widows. It is to reject violence in all of its forms. If we wish to be disciples of Christ, then we must visit those who are in prison, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.

Of course, one person cannot do all of these things themselves, and so the call to service should not be understood as carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but rather as a call to give of what you have and to help those whom you can. 

Brigit of Kildare, a medieval Irish saint, was a beautiful example of this. You can read more about her life HERE and HERE. In the stories written about her life, Brigit embodies the spirit of loving service and the abundance which it creates. Much of what survives in the historical texts about Brigit takes the form of collections of short miracle stories. These stories clearly mirror the miracles of Christ, as Brigit turned water into beer and fed many people with small amounts of food. The miracles of Christ which Brigit was able to perform shared a common theme of loving service and abundance. 

As she went about her daily activities, she helped whoever she encountered. Brigit was not herself a wealthy woman, in fact she and her mother were both slaves who worked in her father’s home. Brigit often gave away her father’s wealth and whenever she did, a miracle would be born. Much like Jesus feeding five thousand people with a basket of fish and bread, whenever Brigit gave away the food in her father’s kitchen it would mysteriously replenish itself. 

In one of the many stories about her miracles of generosity, Brigit was churning butter with the other women in her community. Brigit, having such a beautiful soul in which all of the virtues blossomed, gave away all the butter she had made that day to the poor. When the time came for her stepmother to inspect her work, Brigit was terrified that she would punish her for being so foolish.

But Brigit’s heart burned with an inextinguishable flame of faith, and she turned to God in prayer. God, in Her infinite kindness and generosity, responded to Brigit’s prayers by providing an ample supply of butter. Not only was the butter she had given away replaced, but there was more than she had made in the first place. By giving everything away Brigit ended up having more than she ever expected.

Because Brigit had faith in God and was willing to care more about the needs of the poor today than her own needs in the future, a miracle occurred. When we have the faith of Brigit, and give away what we have to those in need, we can trust that God will continue to provide for us. Even though our acts of loving service in the world may at times deplete our storehouses, we can have faith that God will care for us in return.

When we all give without concern for tomorrow, there will be more than enough for everyone. The gifts of God which sustain us all are not meant to be stored away in barns collecting dust. They are meant to be shared openly and freely with anyone and everyone. 

We don’t all have butter to give to the hungry, sometimes our modern lives are more complicated than the stories of Brigit, but there are many ways in which we can give to the world. When we advocate for the rights of the oppressed, we are giving them the butter they need. When we clean up trash in the park, we are doing God’s work. When we bring casseroles to people in the midst of tragedy, we are serving Christ. When we help an elderly person carry their bags, we are embodying the Kingdom of Heaven. When we see a need and meet it to the best of our ability, we are disciples of Christ. 

To respond to the needs of the moment in the places which we find ourselves is to imitate Brigit just as she imitated Christ. The next time that you come across a person in need, do what you can to help them. Random acts of kindness can have a profound influence in the world. Caring for the needs of our families and communities is a sacred act which springs forth blessings in the lives of all God’s children, including us. While acts of loving kindness can at times deplete our storehouses, in the end they fill us with something greater. The story of Brigit and her butter teaches us that abundance is to be found when we no longer hold onto what we have so tightly

Brigit was afraid that her generosity would get her in trouble, that she would be punished for her generosity. It was her faith which allowed her to push through her fear and to create abundance by letting go. That is not to say that if we are generous we will always be rich and filled with abundance, however. At times, Brigit’s generosity got her in trouble. The way Brigit always gave away what she had to those in need, both humans and animals, frustrated the people around her, especially her father and stepmother, who owned Brigit as a slave. 

Eventually her father decided to give her away to another household to be their slave instead. While he was meeting with someone to make that arrangement, she gave away his precious sword to a needy stranger walking by. Her father was furious. No one wanted to have her as a slave in their home because she gave away everything of value. So, they decided to let her take monastic vows and be freed from her life of servitude. Even when her generosity led to troubles, God was still working in Brigit’s life. It was her reckless generosity which eventually led to her freedom.

When we transform how we think about loving service from a burden we must carry to a blessed act of devotion, we have faith the size of a mustard seed. Even though the call to loving service is a commandment which we must obey, it is not something that burdens us but rather something which frees us. Jesus spoke about this when he said,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

If we are gentle and humble of heart, like Jesus and Brigit, we will find rest for our souls in the commandment to love our neighbours. It is not a commandment which exhausts us but rather one which liberates us from all the vices which arise out of a heart selfish heart. If we approach life in imitation of the blessed Saint Brigit we will encounter Christ in every one of God’s children whom we serve. Jesus told us this himself when he said,

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

The idea that we care for Christ when we care for people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, and sick is more than just a rhetorical device to drive home the importance of loving service. It also has a deeper mystical meaning. It transforms the requirements of loving service into a spiritual practice which helps us as much as it does others. When we love other people we are lifted up into love of God. When we encounter another person in their need we encounter Christ. If we remember this truth while we are out serving others, our labour of love becomes a contemplative practice.

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