From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the work of the church of God be in these hands. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Fursa’s prayer directs me to make myself relevant to the work of God. Today I am to ask God to entrust me with the church-building work of God’s choosing.
This was Fursa’s prayer, and, in time, he was to gather pledged communities of soul-friends, working together to spread the knowledge of Christ’s gospel and to build the tribe of God. This was what happened wherever Fursa went – Ireland, England, France. These things happened because God repeatedly answered Fursa’s prayer. In this we must be sure to note that it was God of whom Fursa asked this holy privilege. And it was God who gave it.
Six hundred years after Fursa’s passing in AD 650, the pen of a more institutionally minded writer carefully redrafted the story of Fursa’s life. This reinvented-Fursa was said to have been selected, trained, ordained, and licensed by his very own great-uncle – none other than the famous Saint Brendan whose venerable authority was beyond any question or doubt. This blood relationship implied that reinvented-Fursa was also a very junior relationship of the local king. Here was a very legitimate Fursa indeed, neatly fitting in to the authenticating structures of the twelfth-century establishment. Reinvented-Fursa was a fine, obedient citizen, compliantly following orders in meek subjection to the political chain of command of church and state. Thus it was that the revisionist writer co-opted our pioneering friend, making him appear to endorse a particular pecking order among bishops feuding for power some six centuries after his time. This sanitized “Saint Fursa of the Holy Establishment” bore scant relation to the bold, radical, gospel-loving Fursa of history; that self-starting Celtic pioneer of the seventh century.
Our Fursa, the Fursa of history, had a simpler mindset by far. He took his holy orders directly from his God and set himself to doing precisely what the Holy Spirit asked of him – just as Bede later recalled – preaching and planting “wherever an opportunity should offer.”
Jesus once answered some famous detractors who felt disturbed by the savior’s own boldness in acting outside the Jerusalem temple’s chain of human command. He said, “John’s power to baptize – was it given by God or man?” No-one accused Jesus of making a false dichotomy. The answer was clear.
Likewise, Fursa looked to God to entrust him directly with opportunities of divine giving. His prayer teaches us to do the same. It is directly to God that I must declare my desire to be a mere spectator of his works no longer, because, as the Scripture says, it is he who prepares in advance the works for me to walk in. It is to God, therefore, that Fursa has me address these sacred words: “Let the work of the church of God be in my hands.”