Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Such was Columba

He was at the same time full of contradictions and contrasts at once tender and irritable, rude and courteous, ironical and compassionate, caressing and imperious, grateful and revengeful led by pity as well as by wrath, ever moved by generous passions, and among all passions fired to the very end of his life by two which his countrymen under stand the best, the love of poetry and the love of country. Little inclined to melancholy when he had once surmounted the great sorrow of his life, which was his exile; little disposed even, save to wards the end, to contemplation or solitude, but trained by prayer and austerities to triumphs of evangelical exposition; despising rest, untiring in mental and manual toil; born for eloquence, and gifted with a voice so penetrating and sonorous that it was thought of afterwards as one of the most miraculous gifts that he had received of God; frank and loyal, original and powerful in his words as in his actions in cloister and mission and parliament, on land and on sea, in Ireland as in Scotland, always swayed by the love of God and of his neighbour, whom it was his will and pleasure to serve with an impassioned uprightness. Such was Columba.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Saint Colum Cille and the Beggar

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Colum Cille and the Beggar

One of those rarely beautiful and instructive incidents, common to the lives of many saints, is recorded as having happened at Derry. The Saint fed a hundred poor men daily, but his steward, or dispenser, did not quite appreciate the liberality of his master. He had a fixed time for giving the dole of food, and any one who came late was peremptorily dismissed. A poor man came one day late, and was, as usual, sent away. The next day he came in time, but was told there was nothing for him. For many days he came, but each time he met with some repulse. He then sent a message to Columba, to tell him that he advised him for the future to put no limit to his charity while he had alms to give, except what God set on the number of those who came for it. Columba was struck by the message, and came down to the gate of the monastery, not waiting even to put on his cloak. He hastened after the beggar; but when he had gone some distance he found not the poor man, but Christ, who had taken the form of a beggar. Then, as he fell down and adored his Lord, he obtained from him a royal alms — new lights, new graces, new and yet more wonderful powers of miracle and prophecy. In the precise language of the chronicle, "He saw both the secrets of Holy Scripture, things happening at a distant place or time, and even what was passing in a man's thoughts; and he came to know about beasts and birds, and their affections, and their language, and of what great value it was to have pity on the poor, when that virtue was joined on to other virtues." And so it came to pass that when St. Brendan came to visit him with a hundred men there was food for all, and the very lakes were filled with fish for his service.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A Portrait of Saint Colum Cille

BEFORE we follow him to his monastic foundations in Ireland, or on his missionary journeys through Scotland, it may be well to see what manner of man he was personally. Venerable Bede and the ancient Irish manuscripts leave no room for conjecture regarding his physical appearance. He was tall and muscular, angelic of face, somewhat reddish haired, with a loud resonant voice that could on occasions be heard very far off and was withal musical as an angel's. Naturally hot and fiery in his temperament, he so completely overcame himself by his fastings, prayers, and vigils as to successfully verify his baptismal name of "The Dove." Restless and studious by turns, he was at once the deepest student and the most extensive publisher of the Sacred Text, the most energetic missionary and enlightened statesman of his day. Adamnan says "he never could spend even the space of one hour without study or prayer, or writing, or some other holy or useful occupation. So incessantly was he engaged, night and day, in the un wearied exercise of fasting and watching, that the burden of each of these austerities would seem beyond the power of all human endurance, and still in all these he was beloved by the brethren, for a holy joyousness ever beaming on his countenance revealed the joy and gladness with which the Holy Ghost filled his inmost soul."

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Monastic Life of Saint Colum Cille

In the midst of the new community Columba inhabited, instead of a cell, a sort of hut built of planks, and placed upon the most elevated spot within the monastic enclosure. Up to the age of seventy-six he slept there upon the hard floor, with no pillow but a stone. This hut was at once his study and his oratory. It was there that he gave himself up to those prolonged prayers which excited the admiration and almost the alarm of his disciples. It was there that he returned after sharing the outdoor labour of his monks, like the least among them, to consecrate the rest of his time to the study of Holy Scripture and the transcription of the sacred text. The work of transcription remained until his last day the occupation of his old age as it had been the passion of his youth; it had such an attraction for him, and seemed to him so essential to a knowledge of the truth, that, as we have already said, three hundred copies of the Holy Gospels, copied by his own hand, have been attributed to him.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Saint Colum Cille on the Angels' Hill

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Colum Cille on the Angels' Hill

"Let no one follow me to-day," Columba said one morning with unusual severity to the assembled community: "I would be alone in the little plain to the west of the isle." He was obeyed; but a brother, more curious and less obedient than the rest, followed him far off, and saw him, erect and motionless, with his hands and his eyes raised to heaven, standing on a sandy hillock, where he was soon surrounded by a crowd of angels, who came to bear him company and to talk with him. The hillock has to this day retained the name of Cnocan Aingel the Angels' Hill. And the citizens of the celestial country, as they were called at Iona, came often to console and strengthen their future companion during the long winter nights which he passed in prayer in some retired corner, voluntarily exposed to all the torments of sleeplessness and cold.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Saint Colum Cille has a Narrow Escape

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Colum Cille has a Narrow Escape

In his just wrath against the spoilers of the poor and the persecutors of the Church, he drew back before no danger, not even before the assassin's dagger. Among the rievers who infested Scottish Caledonia, making armed incursions into their neighbours lands, and carrying on that system of pillage which, up to the eighteenth century, continued to characterise the existence of the Scottish clans, he had distinguished the sons of Donnell, who belonged to a branch of the family which ruled the Dalriadian colony. Columba did not hesitate to excommunicate them. Exasperated by this sentence, one of these powerful ill-doers, named or surnamed Lamm-Dess (Right-hand), took advantage of a visit which the great abbot paid to a distant island, and undertook to murder him in his sleep. But Finn-Lugh, one of the saint's companions, having had some suspicion or instinctive presentiment of danger, and desiring to save his father's life by the sacrifice of his own, borrowed Columba's cowl, and wrapped himself in it. The assassin struck him whom he found clothed in the well-known costume of the abbot, and then fled. But the sacred vestment proved impenetrable armour to the generous disciple, who was not even wounded. Columba, when informed of the event, said nothing at the moment. But a year after, when he had returned to Iona, the abbot said to his community, " A year ago Lamm-Dess did his best to murder my dear Finn-Lugh in my place; now at this moment it is he who is being killed." And, in fact, the news shortly arrived that the assassin had just died under the sword of a warrior, who struck the fatal blow while invoking the name of Columba, in a fight which brought the depredations of these rievers to an end.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Teaching of Saint Colum Cille on Hospitality

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Colum Cille's Teaching on Hospitality

It is also recorded that he took pleasure in the society of laymen during his journeys, and lived among them with a free and delightful familiarity. This is one of the most attractive and instructive phases of his history. He continually asked and received the hospitality not only of the rich, but also of the poor; and sometimes, indeed, received a more cordial reception from the poor than from the rich. To those who refused him a shelter he predicted prompt punishment. " That miser," he said, " who despises Christ in the person of a traveller, shall see his wealth diminish from day to day and come to nothing; he will come to beggary, and his son shall go from door to door holding out his hand, which shall never be more than half filled." When the poor received him under their roof, he inquired with his ordinary thoughtfulness into their resources, their necessities, all their little possessions. At that period a man seems to have been considered very poor in Scotland who had only five cows. This was all the fortune of a Lochaber peasant in whose house Columba, who continually traversed this district when going to visit the king of the Picts, passed a night, and found a very cordial welcome notwithstanding the poverty of the house. Next morning he had the five little cows brought into his presence and blessed them, predicting to his host that he should soon have five hundred, and that the blessing of the grateful missionary should go down to his children and grandchildren a prophecy which was faithfully fulfilled.