Ok, so here’s an interesting saint: a guy brought up in an upper-class Irish household who decided he not only wanted to be a monk, but a pilgrim monk — a person without fixed address. Homeless. For Christ. Boy. There’s a challenge.
He, like Ita, lived at the end of the sixth century AD, and eventually he was ordered to settle down (at Burgh Castle, a deserted Roman-era fortress), and almost immediately fell ill. He had a series of visions, which I’ve tried to capture in today’s poem.
Pilgrim, in your half-empty Roman fort
after many years of homeless journey,
delirious in fever, sick at heart:
came an angel to you, holy Fursey?
‘Tis said you saw a valley glum with smoke,
where four fires burned in boiling dark;
you asked your winged guides, though the stench did choke
what meant these four flames, lit with Devil’s spark?
“Falsehood,” spoke the angels in certain truth,
“Covetousness, Cruelty, Discord, you see —
these black flame-veiling clouds make awful proof
that what flames is Earth — for man is not free
of flesh’s constraints, even if he turn
to God. Fursey, warn men: all Earth may burn.”
The essence of Fursey’s visions (not detailed enough in Toulson’s book, alas, though she makes mention of her own awareness of the 1990s burnings of the Kuwaiti oil wells, apropos in this year 2012) was that the fires of Falsehood, Cruelty, Covetousness, and Discord are enough to consume the whole world — the reality on which we are dependent for life and health. It’s an important message for us in the 21st century, and one which I’m deciding to act on in ways that are consistent with my goals for 2012. I’m not ready to talk about them just yet, but I’ll say more once the process is underway, and I’m in a position to report on success rather than progress or failure. Resolution is only 10% of the solution; the other 90% is execution.