Brendan in the Wilderness - by John Gillis

Image:  grw : view

Image: grw : view

 Imagine St. Brendan himself, half-blinded by the fog as he nears the summit.


The mountain that now bears his name, Cnoc Bréanainn, commands the Dingle Peninsula -- the westernmost point of old Europe.  On clear days, the mountain's view of the Atlantic stretches so far beyond the horizon, it's little wonder Dingle was once called "the ends of the earth."


But to these ends, the Lord has surely called him.


Out of breath, Brendan rejoices at the summit, and finds a place to pray and wait for what the Lord will now show him.




Among the tales current throughout Europe in the middle ages, none was more famous than The Voyage of Brendan  --- in search of...Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum.


    Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland, 1892


There is, of course, no way to know what Brendan saw through the mist.  We can only deduce that it somehow confirmed ancient stories of a land far beyond the Atlantic, Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum, the promised land of the saints.


And to this land, the Lord now calls him.




In Brendan's day, seafarers rarely ventured far from safe shores. In the medieval mind, the Atlantic was a vast, forbidding wilderness, not unlike the "waste howling wilderness" (Deut 32:10, KJV) ancient Israel survived for 40 years on their way to the promised land.


Now imagine St. Brendan and his monastic crew, boarding their curragh at the foot of Cnoc Bréanainn, on their way to Terra Repromissionis.  A years-long voyage of hardship, exhaustion, fear... and absolute trust in God.


There is no way to prove that St. Brendan and crew actually landed on the American shore, but, according to National Geographic, The Voyage of Brendan "had incalculable impact on the great Euro­pean voyages of discovery—including that of Columbus" [Vol. 152, December 1977].


Therefore I wonder if American history might have turned out differently, had St. Brendan not endured the wilderness.




If Brendan were alive today, he would invite us to join him on the mountain.  He'd point to the far horizon and ask if we can see the eternal adventure God has in store, for all who love Him. He'd take us to the outer shore of comfort and security, where a ship awaits.  


And our patron saint would once again ascend the helm:


"For all who dare trust everything

to His guidance, and His tide…

Welcome aboard, dear friends,

All things new... now begin!”


And suddenly I know what Brendan saw through the mist.


He saw you, dear friend, and we the people,

Beloved communities, gathered from the ends of the earth

Disembarking to a land of unceasing promise.


And to this future, the Lord now calls us.