November 22, 2017

Saint Columban, Abbot and Missionary

Saint Columban

Optional Memorial - November 23rd  

Though he died nearly fourteen-hundred years ago, Saint Columban is a saint for our time, which bears an uncanny resemblance to his own. In the midst of great social and spiritual upheaval, he stands as an example of someone not afraid to be outspoken in the face of moral corruption and depravity—even when that involved bishops and kings. Many miracles were credited to him during his life.

St. Columban was one of the great Irish missionaries who made his way to the continent of Europe near the close of the 6th century. He traveled there after spending some 30 years in a monastery in northern Ireland, where he had fled to overcome severe temptations of the flesh. Once in Gaul, he became known for his moral discipline, homilies, and deep commitment to charity and religious life. Countless souls went to hear him preach and to pray in the monasteries there.

The devastation of the barbarian invasions had completely disrupted Gaul’s 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 would compose 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. After 20 years of tireless work, he was ordered deported back to Ireland by the king’s mother, who saw him as a threat to her power. But his ship ran aground, and the superstitious sailors refused to carry him on board any longer. He eventually made his way to Italy and the monastery at Bobbio, where he died in 615 at the age of 75.

Almighty God, who in your saint, holy Columban, wonderfully joined the work of evangelization to a 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. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.

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