23 November – 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.
– Patron Saint Index
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 the 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wrote a Rule for them; it incorporated many Celtic practices, and was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, but was superseded by the Benedictine.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 judgment; 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 for 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; many 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 call 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.
– Patron Saint Index
I, John, heard the voice I had heard from heaven speaking to me again. ‘Go,’ it said ‘and take that open scroll out of the hand of the angel standing on sea and land.’ I went to the angel and asked him to give me the small scroll, and he said, ‘Take it and eat it; it will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.’ So I took it out of the angel’s hand, and swallowed it; it was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, ‘You are to prophesy again, this time about many different nations and countries and languages and emperors.’
Jesus went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling. ‘According to scripture,’ he said ‘my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’
He taught in the Temple every day. The chief priests and the scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, tried to do away with him, but they did not see how they could carry this out because the people as a whole hung on his words.
“…the people as a whole hung on his words.”
Yesterday, I wrote about how I was recently on a pilgrimage that spanned France, Spain and Portugal. We were truly blessed to have had a tour leader who knew so much about each shrine we visited as well as the stories of the various saints we venerated. Each day, as we were making our way along the road towards our destination, he would regale us with all sorts of stories about where we were going and help us to focus our attention on that particular town or saint.
Truly, if one has a compelling story to tell and speaks from the heart, the audience is certain to be spellbound and will listen to every word that is uttered. Jesus, during his ministry, is certainly the prime example of what ‘speaking from the heart’ means. After all, He was divinely connected with God the Father and the Holy Spirit; what more could one ask for!
During our pilgrimage, we had private masses each day celebrated by our spiritual director. And while his homilies were centred around each day’s readings, I appreciated how he was mindful of the purpose of our pilgrimage and kept reminding us about how God called each of us on this journey. Looking back, I am grateful for the words that were spoken to us each day (there was even a mass before sunrise) and also recall other pilgrims who joined us on two occasions when we were doing our Stations of the Cross. An Irish couple even approached me the next day and asked for the printed text, which I gladly tore out from my book.
Brothers and sisters, when we are ministered to with words spoken from the heart, it is inevitable that they will resonate deep within our own hearts. I am constantly amazed at some of our priests, who can speak so passionately for an hour or more (especially when they come to CSC) without any notes in hand. It is on such occasions that I notice the congregation literally hanging on their every word, unlike at Sunday mass when there just seem to be distractions aplenty. Maybe ‘the people’ are not as engaged or are just there for the sake of fulfilling an obligation.Or perhaps some priests have ‘the gift of the gab’ more than others.
Nevertheless, our anointed brethren face countless challenges each day of their ministry. So let us all keep our brother priests in our prayers.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you always watch over our brother priests and continue to inflame their hearts with your Word.
Thanksgiving: We thank you for the gift of our shepherds.