Nov 23 – Memorial for St. Clement I, pope, martyr; Memorial for St. Columban, abbot
Clement (d. 101) was the fourth pope, and an apostolic Father. The Basilica of St. Clement in Rome is one of the earliest parish churches in the city, and is probably built on the site of Clement’s home. He is the author of the “Epistle to the Corinthians”. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Origen and St. Jerome identify him as working with St. Paul the Apostle.
Columban (543–615) was well-born, handsome, and educated. He was torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decided to withdraw from the world. His family opposed the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He became a monk at Lough Erne. He studied Scripture extensively, and wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He became a monk at Bangor under abbot St. Comgall.
At middle age, Columban felt a calling to missionary life. With 12 companions, he travelled to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, had fallen far from the faith, but were ready for missionaries, and they had some success. They were warmly greeted at the court of Gontram, and king of Burgundy invited the band to stay. They chose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columban as their abbot.
The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group drew disciples to join them, and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columban, to find solitude for prayer, often lived for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks overcrowded the old fortress, King Gontram gave them the old castle of Luxeuil to found a new house in 590. Soon after, a third house was founded at Fontaines. Columban served as master of them all, and wrote a Rule for them; it incorporated many Celtic practices, was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, but was superseded by the Benedictine
Problems arose early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops objected to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602, he was summoned to appear before them for judgement; instead of appearing, he sent a letter advising them to hold more synods, and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he used to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continued to years, with Columban appealing to multiple popes for help, but was only settled when Columban abandoned the Celtic calendar when he moved to Italy.
In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columban spoke out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court which was in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunehault stirred up the bishops and nobility against the abbot; Thierry ordered him to conform to the local ways, and shut up. Columban refused, and was briefly imprisoned at Besancon, but he escaped and returned to Luxeuil. Thierry and Brunehault sent an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship set sail, a storm drove them back to shore; the captain took it as a sign, and set the monks free.
They made their way to King Clothaire at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theodebert of Austrasia in 611. He travelled to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, Suevi, Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelisation work there was unsuccessful, and the group passed on to Arbon, then Bregenz, and then Lake Constance. St. Gall, who knew the local language best, took the lead in this region; may were converted to the faith, and the group founded a new monastery as their home and base.
However, a year later, political upheaval caused Columban to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treated him well, and he preached and wrote against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, the Lombard king gave him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilt a half-ruined church of St. Peter, and around it he founded an abbey that was to be the source for evangelisation throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.
Columban always enjoyed being in the forests and caves, and as he walked through the woods, birds and squirrels would ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life came word that his old enemies were dead, and his brothers wanted him to come back north, but he declined. Knowing that his time was almost done, he retired to a cave for solitude, and died as he had predicted. His influence continued for centuries as those he converted handed on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelised untold numbers more, and his brother monks founded over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.
What I, John, saw in heaven was a great and wonderful sign: seven angels were bringing the seven plagues that are the last of all, because they exhaust the anger of God. I seemed to see a glass lake suffused with fire, and standing by the lake of glass, those who had fought against the beast and won, and against his statue and the number which is his name. They all had harps from God, and they were singing the hymn of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb:
‘How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
just and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord?
You alone are holy,
and all the pagans will come and adore you
for the many acts of justice you have shown.’
Jesus said: Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’
How great and wonderful are all your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are all your ways, King of nations.
Today’s readings are quite overwhelming — about life and death, good and evil. God will destroy the wicked, yet also save the just. And the whole picture is painted with such tremulous yet glorious detail: a sea of shimmering glass mingled with the blaze of fire, with a great company standing on the sea, singing songs of victory and praise to God Almighty, accompanied by God’s harps. What an awe-inspiring sight it must be indeed!
Before such glory can be revealed though, there will be persecution and plague. Jesus speaks of this in today’s Gospel, foretelling what each of us may have to go through before we can be counted as one of the great many to be saved. It will be a lonely place — we will be isolated, denied, betrayed, executed. While we may stand alone, Jesus tells us not to fear, for he is with us. He, himself, will put the words in our mouths to give such a testimony that it will be beyond refute by the naysayers. We may feel like we will be all alone, but we won’t be, for our perseverance in our faith in Christ Jesus will determine our eternal lives. We may be alone, but we will eventually find ourselves standing in the great company of those who have been persecuted for their faith.
With this in mind, shall we not abandon the fear in our hearts and instead sing praises to the Lord, God Almighty? If God has already promised to save us if we persevere, let us cast aside our inhibitions and join in the resounding chorus to the King of the nations. Let us, without hesitation, give glory to God for the wonderful works that He has done, for the victory that He has won for us. Let us live our lives as those who would be saved, rather than be condemned. Let us put on the full armour of God and go forth to “take our stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11), for “if God is for us, who then can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your protection against our foes, against all schemes that try to shake us. Help us to stand strong and persevere, no matter the challenge.
Thanksgiving: God, You are marvelous and wonderful indeed! Great is Your mercy, great is Your love, and we thank you for that, and for all the wonderful deeds that You have wrought. Praise and glory be Your name forever and ever! Amen.