Wednesday, June 13, 2007

a school for sanctity - and a base for mission


From Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba, Introduction [Seth Seyfried]:

St. Columba was born on December 7, ca. 521 A.D. to Fedhlimidh and Eithne of the Ui Neill clan in Gartan (Donegal). As a young man, Columba soon took an interest in the church... Columba went north and founded the church of Derry.

Tradition has it that after founding several other monasteries, Columba copied St. Finnian's psalter without the permission of Finnian, and thus devalued the book. When Finnian took the matter to High King Dermott for judgement, Dermott judged in favor of Finnian, stating "to every cow its calf; to every book its copy"... Columba refused to hand over the copy, and Dermott forced the issue militarily. Columba's family and clan defeated Dermott at the battle of Cooldrevny in 561.

Tradition further holds that St. Molaisi of Devenish, Columba's spiritual father, ordered Columba to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as penance. In 563, Columba landed on Iona with 12 disciples, and founded a new monastery. After founding several more monasteries, ... Columba died on June 9, 597.

Source: Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy. Written by Adamnan, Ninth Abbot of that Monastery, ed. William Reeves. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874) I


We tend to think of Columba in terms of where he ended up – Iona – yet where he began was at the end of Europe, in the far west of Ireland, in the little church of St. Enda, in the Aran Islands. It stands today, open to the sky – and surrounded by graves three deep in the churchyard of the village of Killeany: a cloud of witnesses. There is no monastic community on Inishmor – these are the graves of the ordinary people of the island, interred in the sand built up over 15 centuries around the little oratory of the saints of Aran. These ordinary people are the ones here to carry on the faith, to learn, as would we, the traditions of the past and to pass them along to the people of the future.

1500 years ago a young man went to the end of the world to learn to be a leader of Christian communities. Known to us as Columba, “the dove of the church”, he went, as it is remembered on that island, to Inishmor, Aran of the Saints, the island farthest west in the bay of Galway, to enter St Enda’s “spiritual boot camp” (in Sarah’s phrase). In a monastery with room for a dozen monks and their abbot, Enda established a place to learn a model of Christian community that served to evangelize Ireland – and beyond. Like the monastic communities of Martin of Tours, provided a new vessel to convey the gospel to a new generation, a new situation and a new people.

After a spell, the young man, trained as deacon, priest, and poet, left Enda’s school for sanctity, traveling north to found communities in the north of Ireland and then crossed the sea to Iona, a small island in the Western Hebrides – indeed, an island about the size of Inishmor, three or four miles long and a mile wide – where he established the base for communicating the gospel to the Scots. It became the center of evangelism and witness to the people of Scotland, to whom it is a place of pilgrimage, and renewal in the faith, to this day. From there the good news spread to the north of England, where Aidan established his base at Lindisfarne…

The lessons appointed for use on the Feast of Columba, Abbot of Iona, 597 (June 9th): 1 Corinthians 3:11-23, Psalm 97:1-2, 7-12, or Psalm 98:1-4, and the gospel of Luke 10:17-20.

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