February 17 is the commemoration of Saint Fintan of Clonenagh. The seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, published a Life of Saint Fintan from the Codex-Kilkenniensis at this day, and the Bollandists also published his Acts in 4 chapters with 26 sections and a preceeding commentary. Canon O'Hanlon in his entry for Saint Fintan in the Lives of the Irish Saints has translated some of these sources. The saint is shown as demonstrating the gifts of prophecy and of healing and he also sets a captive free. There are some insights into the life of the monastery at Clonenagh and a rather touching example of the love with which the brethren regarded their spiritual father. As with so many saints' Lives, the Life of Fintan describes how he was marked for sanctity and greatness even before birth.
An angel appears to Saint Fintan's mother, Findath:
When about giving birth to the infant in her womb, an angel appeared to Findath, and warned her to retire into a secret place, where she should be removed from all intercourse with men, until the time of her delivery. The angel promised, also, that her son should be holy and great, both in the sight of God and of man. She complied with this admonition, and spent seven days under the shade of a certain tree, whilst in the meantime she was miraculously sustained by food from Heaven. Her child was born, at the end of this time.
Saint Fintan's Childhood and the Prophecy of Saint Columcille:
Following the account in St. Fintan's Life, it appears to have been on the eighth day succeeding his birth, that Findath's infant was brought to, and baptized by, a holy man, who dwelt at this place. The child was afterwards instructed, by the same person, until he made great progress in virtue and learning. While yet a boy, Fintan told his instructor to prepare a banquet for guests, who were about to visit them, and that St. Columkille with some of his companions should arrive, on that very day. Being reproachfully asked, by the holy senior, how this could have been known to him, the boy answered, that it was revealed, by our Lord Jesus Christ. The event corresponded with this prediction. While St. Columkille was on a journey this day, and passing near Cluain, he told his companion, they should turn a little from their course, to visit a holy senior, and a youth, who dwelt there.
Columkille also foretold the future eminence of the boy, and desired his guardian to retract those harsh expressions, used towards Fintan, for his apparent presumption, in announcing the arrival of his present visitors... for, it was destined, that both himself, and his place of habitation, should be subject to St. Fintan's rule during succeeding ages.
Saint Fintan's Ascetic Regime at Clonenagh:
Following the narrative contained in his Acts, it was at Clonenagh St. Fintan began to collect around him a community of monks, who lived under a very strict rule. After the manner of older eremites, they lived by manual labour, and tilled the ground with a spade or hoe. They abstained from all animal food, nor had they even a single cow, belonging to the monastery, for their rule did not allow the use of milk or butter. This excessive rigour of discipline and of living was considered almost insupportable to the brethren, by some holy men, who dwelt in the districts, adjoining Clonenagh ; wherefore, after some consultation, St. Canice and other servants of God came on a visit to our saint. They besought him, for the sake of Divine charity, to relax, in some measure, his strict monastic observances. The night before their visit, an angel appeared to admonish Fintan, regarding their object; while, directing him at the same time, as to how he should act, in preparing for their arrival, with a view to conform himself to the Divine will. St. Canice and those holy men accompanying him were received by Fintan, with great benignity. At their request, he relaxed the rigour of his rule, in favour of those monks, who were subject to him. Yet, he still adhered to his own usual strict manner of living. After bestowing mutual prayers and benedictions on each other, the holy visitors took leave of their host, each one seeking the immediate sphere for his own pious labours.
Saint Fintan allows his monks some meat:
One day, while his monks were engaged at their agricultural operations, St. Fintan went forth into the field, to inspect their labours. On his approach, the brethren advanced to meet him. With playful gestures, holding their beloved superior by the hand, according to a custom then prevalent among labourers towards their masters, they besought our saint, that he would allow them a more luxurious refreshment than ordinary, on that day. Well pleased with their familiarity, and sharing this hilarity of his monks, Fintan said : " The Lord is able, my dear brethren, to give what you ask from me." But, although, on this day, as at other times, the cook had nothing to prepare for their meal, but some potherbs; yet, that very hour, some men had come to their monastery, from the southern part of Leinster. These bore different kinds of meat, as a present for our saint. The chariots and waggons of those visitors being unloaded, the brethren were sumptuously entertained, on that day. Their holy superior returned thanks to the great Bestower of all gifts, for this providential supply, and for the apparently sanctioned approval of that dispensation allowed to his religious.
Saint Fintan is disturbed at his devotions:
It was customary with our abbot, to rise during night, and to devote many an hour to prayer, when passing out, for this purpose, to the adjoining cemetery. While thus engaged, one of his monks, desiring to see the saint at his orisons, sought him in vain for some time. At last, going into the graveyard, although the night was very dark, he beheld a bright light, surrounding the holy abbot, whom he regarded for some time, at a distance. On the following day, he received a reproof from St. Fintan, who warned him not to intrude, for the future, on his private devotions.
Saint Fintan frees Prince Cormac from Captivity:
Colman, King of Northern Leinster, held in captivity Cormac, son to Diermad, King of Hua-Kinsellagh, whom he intended putting to death. Hearing of this, and being desirous to liberate the young prince, Fintan took with him twelve disciples. This cruel king, hearing of our saint's approach, and suspecting his intention, gave his retainers an order to guard carefully his captive, and to exclude God's servant from his castle. But, when the saint arrived, all its gates were miraculously opened, and even the door of that very prison, in which Cormac had been confined; the chains also fell from the captive's limbs, to the great alarm of his guards. These hastened to their king, whom they aroused from sleep. They told him, at the same time, what had occurred. Colman was in turn alarmed, and, he asked the advice of his friends, as to what should be done. He was counselled, to grant whatever Fintan might desire, lest he might incur the displeasure of God, who wrought such wonders through his saint. Hereupon, hastening to Fintan, Colman fell prostrate before him, saying : "It becomes us, O saint, to honour thee, whom the Lord hath magnified: I, therefore, release him, whom you seek, and all who are in bondage with him." Giving his benediction to the king, Fintan prepared to depart with Cormac, the liberated prince. Afterwards, a multitude of soldiers were encountered on the way. Among these was a man of royal lineage, who desired Cormac's death, but he was dissuaded from this purpose, by his companions. Hereupon, St. Fintan said, "Child of Satan, thou shalt be slain in a short time and, he whom thou desirest to slay, shall long rule over his kingdom, and shall end his life in the practice of good works." Before a month had passed, that chieftain was slain. As had been predicted, the prince Cormac ruled over Hua Kinsellagh territory. Having relinquished the sceptre, in more advanced years, he became a recluse, under St. Comgall, in Bangor Monastery. There, too, he ended a holy life.
Saint Fintan and Saint Canice Bury the Remains of Dead Soldiers:
On another occasion, St. Fintan and St. Canice were together in Clonenagh Monastery. On a sudden, they heard shouts of triumph raised by some soldiers, who had obtained a victory over their enemies. St. Fintan said to his companion, "In this clamour, I hear the voice of an innocent lamb ; for, one among them, named Kieran, son to Tulchan, shall become a monk in this place, and after a life of perfection he shall die." The soldiers brought away the heads of their enemies, as a trophy of victory, and deposited them near Clonenagh Monastery, when they approached. Taking these ghastly remains, the monks buried them within the precincts of their cemetery. One of the brothers asked Saints Fintan and Canice, what this availed those corpses, whose heads were buried there. He received for reply: "We believe and trust in the Lord, that owing to the merits and virtue of all the saints in this place, who shall be buried here, and who living, shall also pray for the souls of those who may be here buried, that these men shall not be condemned on the day of judgment; for, the more dignified parts of their bodies lie deposited with us, and therefore do we hope clemency for their souls." Afterwards, Kieran, seeking admission to Clonenagh Monastery, was received; and, as St. Fintan predicted, he happily departed this life.
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