May 16 – Theodore the Sanctified; Brendan the Navigator

Theodore the Sanctified (d. 368) grew up in the lap of luxury in Egypt, either as a pagan or a Christian. He yearned early for the monastic life, which was just then being invented out yonder in the desert. His hankering for sanctity was so great that once, when his parents threw a big party, he hid in the basement, lest the lavish entertainment turn his head from seeking God. At fourteen, he ran away to a nearby monk shack. Soon he heard about St. Pachomius the Great (May 15), inventor of monasticism, and thought either, “This guy is going to be famous some day; I want to be able to say I knew him when,” or, “This guy can help me find the path to righteousness; I should go learn from him.” At any rate he sought and found him. Pachomius days had before received a theogram indicating Theodore was on his way.

Theodore took to the cenobitic life like a thistle seed to air, excelling in his work, and in his love for the brethren. As is not infrequently the case for people who run away to monasteries, his mother tracked him down, but fearful of a messy confrontation, Pachomius met her in the parlor, explained the monastic life to her, and recommended the monastery just down the block where his sister was abbess. Theodore’s mom checked it out, and checked herself in.

When Pachomius desired to get away from the hustle and bustle for some serious prayer time, he put Theodore in charge of Tabennisi, his flagship monastery. Theodore is called “the Sanctified” because of his holiness of life, or because he was the first Tabennisite to be priested; or maybe those are the same thing. Although details of this period are thin, we have to think he wasn’t too awful an abbot. He looked after Pachomius in his final days, and was with him when he died. After a long and holy life, he too died, as is not unusual.

Brendan the Navigator (ca. 484–ca. 577) may have discovered America. Or did he? Let me get back to you on that.

Brendan was born in Ireland, studied monkery, and became a priest. He built monastic cells in many places, founded the Clonfert monastery and monastic school, and was friends with Brigid (Feb 1) and Columba (Jun 9), inter alia. He also made a missionary voyage to Wales and Scotland.

But what about America? Well, a ninth century chronicle called The Voyage of Brendan the Navigator tells of how he and 60 (or some other number of) monks set out in a leather-clad boat to find the Garden of Eden. They sailed west from Ireland, and found an island with rich and luxuriant vegetation (if that’s not redundant). Here the experts (recall that “x” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip under pressure) start to disagree. Did this voyage take place? If so, did they really find such a place? If so, was it in the Americas? Pick your expert. At any rate, they were away for seven years, which is more than enough time to find America several times over.

Along the way they landed on an island on Easter, said Mass, and kindled a fire. When the island began to move on its own accord, Brendan realized, “that’s no island!” It was the sea monster (whale?) Jascon. Sadly the sources don’t say how they discovered the name of the monster. “Excuse me, Mr. Whale, sorry for lighting a fire on your head. What’s your name?” The mind boggles.

Brendan died while visiting his sister, (St.) Briga, and, knowing that his relics would be in demand, he arranged in advance to have his body conveyed in a luggage cart to Clonfert, where it remains. He is, and I do not kid, the patron saint of—wait for it—whales.