November 22, 2016

Optional Memorial of Saint Columban, Abbot

St. Columban
November 23rd, is the optional memorial of Saint Columban. This great missionary abbot founded monasteries in France, Switzerland, and Italy that became centers of spirituality, evangelization and learning. He was a monk of the monastery of Bangor in north Ireland, founded by Saint Comgall, one of the first and most notable monastic figures of Ireland.

At Bangor, St. Columban became a teacher in the monastic school where sanctity and scholarship were prized. He was born in West Leinster, sometime between 540 and 550, and decided when he was a youth, to dedicate himself to God despite his mother's opposition. He lived for a time on Cluain Iris, an island in Lough Erne, with a monk named Sinell, before becoming a monk at Bangor.

After thirty years there, he received Comgall's permission to spread the Gospel on the continent of Europe, and taking twelve companions with him, he settled in Gaul where the devastation of the barbarian invasions had completely disrupted civil and religious life. Invited by the Merovingian King Childebert, he established a monastery in Burgundy at Annegray and two others at Luxeuil and Fontaines. From these three monasteries over two hundred foundations were made, and Columban composed for these monasteries two monastic rules.

With the zeal of a prophet, Columban decried the immoral court life of the Merovingian kings, the lax local clergy, and introduced to the continent the Irish penitential system, which became the basis for private confession. Reproving a local king for his duplicity, he was expelled from Burgundy. He travelled across France and Germany, leaving disciples behind to found monasteries, and crossed the Alps to establish the famous monastery at Bobbio in Italy.

Columban was a staunch opponent of Arianism, wrote letters to popes on the religious issues of the day, and left a legacy of writings that deeply influenced monasticism for centuries. He impressed his contemporaries as a giant of a man in mind and spirit, who revived religion on the continent and prepared the way for the Carolingian renaissance. Columban died at Bobbio on November 23, 615, and was interred in the crypt of the church that bears his name there.

The St. Columban's Missionary Society is named for him, in recognition of his missionary genius and uniquely Irish spirit. St. Columban suffered heroically for his outspokenness in the face of moral corruption and public depravity. He was exiled, but his words were remembered years later and his warnings heeded. He preached the word of Christ fearlessly and was not afraid of the anger of kings or worldly powers. May we possess such Christian courage. O God, who in Saint Columban wonderfully joined the work of evangelization to zeal for the monastic life, grant, we pray, that through his intercession and example, we may strive to seek you above all things, and to bring increase to your faithful people.

Sources: "The One Year Book of Saints", Rev. Clifford Stevens, Our Sunday Visitor, Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney and the Divine Office.

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