Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of Derry, floods, bookbinders, poets, Ireland, and Scotland.
St. Columba. He is also known as St. Colum and St. Columcille, or "Colom Cille" which means "Dove of the Church."
Saint Colum's Story
Columba or Colmcille (7 December 521 – 9 June 597) was an Irish abbot and missionary evangelist credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission. He founded the important abbey on Iona, which became a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the patron saint of Derry. He was highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts, and is remembered today as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Columba studied under some of Ireland's most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries in the country. Around 563 he and his twelve companions crossed to Dunaverty near Southend, Argyll, in Kintyre before settling in Iona in Scotland, then part of the Ulster kingdom of Dál Riata, where they founded a new abbey as a base for spreading Celtic Christianity among the northern Pictish kingdoms who were pagan. He remained active in Irish politics, though he spent most of the remainder of his life in Scotland. Three surviving early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to him.
St. Columba and the Beast in the River Ness There is a legend that claims the first reported sighting of what would later be known as the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Loch Ness, Scotland, was made by Saint Columba [521-597 CE], which is considered proof of the continuing existence of a large unidentified animal (or animals) in Loch Ness for over a 1400 year period
"On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, 'Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.' Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians."
Another tale about St. Comlumba that I've run across while researching the Loch Ness 'Monster' asserts that Columba gave the monster a blessing and the freedom to live in the lake for having towwed Columba and his followers from one end of Loch Ness to the other in their coracles (very small boats), against the wind. In this version, the monster is a Scottich 'water-horse', which can change its form at will; for the towing job, the monster transformed itself into an atheletic young man, tied the coracles together, changed back into a 'water-horse' (presumably horse shaped) and swam across while towing the coracles with its teeth.
Iona Abbey and Nunnery
Isle of Iona PA76 6SQ, United Kingdom
Rules to live by:
“Rule of Colmcille” which the author claims dates to the ninth century. It is intended for hermits, those wishing to live by the Columban spirituality, but outside of the monastery. I’m not a hermit, and probably neither are you; but there is wisdom in this Rule that can be applied to all striving to live a life of Christian discipleship.
1. Participate in the Christian Community
Being a member of the Church means being a member of the Church, even if you are an isolated hermit. There is no such thing as an “independent Christian.” We aren’t meant to live the Christian life on our own.
St. Columba’s Rule instructs hermits to live “in the vicinity of a great city.” Some translate “great city” as “the seat of a bishop.” In other words, even when spending most of your time in isolation you need to remain firmly planted in the Church.
This Rule also instructs the hermit to “have a few devout men who will discuss God and the scriptures with you. Let them visit you on great feast-days, that so they may strengthen your devotion to the words and precepts of God.”
We need to be supported by good Christian fellowship. We ought to associate with those farther along the spiritual path than we are, to help show us the way. Note that the Rule mentions feast-days. The liturgical calendar of the Church should play a prominent role in our devotional life.
Many Christians may live out in the world and yet be spiritual hermits when it comes to the Church, isolating themselves from much of parish life. We should not only attend Sunday Mass, which is the principle celebration of the Christian community, but we should be participating in the community in other ways. Attend Mass on feast days during the week. Participate in public devotions, adult education, or social activities at your parish. Start a Bible study. Make good Christian friends. Have a spiritual director.
If even a hermit cannot walk the path of discipleship alone, what makes you think you can?
2. Be Detached From the World
Detachment is a good spiritual practice no matter your station in life. St. Columba calls his hermits to “let your life be completely detached from the world, and follow the teaching of Christ and the gospels.” This does not mean having no possessions whatsoever. The Rule also instructs, “Whether you possess much or little in the way of food, drink or clothing, let it be retained with the permission of a senior. Let him have control over its disposition…”
Whatever we may possess, it is important not to allow it to possess us. For those of us not in a religious order, placing control of our goods in the hands of a superior is not an option. But we can place their control in the hands of God. After all, God owns it all; we only borrow it for a time. This is what it means to be stewards of God’s creation. We are caretakers only. Nothing really belongs to us.
Note, too, the specific goods the Rule mentions: food, drink and clothing. There is not much in the way of luxury here. Because there is a tendency to put too much value in our possessions, we should strive to possess only that which we truly need.
3. Make Good Friends
In addition to the above requirement to have devout people with whom you can discuss God and the scriptures, St. Columba’s Rule also warns against conversing “with anyone who is given to idle or worldly gossip, or with anyone who grumbles about what he can neither prevent nor rectify.” The Rule calls for the hermit to bless such people, and then send them on their way.
We should be discerning in our friendships and associates. We should surround ourselves with those who will support us in our quest for sanctity and avoid those who will bring us down. Note: we should not treat the latter unkindly. We should pray for them, but cannot allow them to involve us in their vice.
4. Pray for Others
It goes without saying that the Christian disciple needs to have a robust daily prayer life. St. Columba’s Rule says to “cherish every practice of devotion greatly.” It specifically mentions praying for two groups of people:
Those who annoy you.
Concerning the dead, the Rule instructs to pray for them constantly, “as if each dead person were a personal friend of yours.” We should pray for the dead in our family and communities on a daily basis. As my own spiritual director puts it, each soul we pray for in purgatory becomes a sure friend and advocate for us in heaven. Who doesn’t want more heavenly friends?
5. Be Faithful
The Rule instructs the hermits to “Be faithful to the commands of God at all times.” A footnote mentions that “commands” could also be translated as “testament,” which connotes bearing witness. Another way of putting this is martyrdom. St. Columba’s Rule mentions two types. It says, “Be ready in mind for red martyrdom,” the martyrdom of blood. But it also says, “Be preserving and steadfast for white martyrdom.”
This “white martyrdom” means abandoning everything for the sake of Christ. It means living a totally faithful Christian life, despite whatever hardships or obstacles the world throws at us; despite whatever derision or scorn it might bring. Hermits and monastics live this white martyrdom in a very specific way, of course. But there is no reason whatsoever that a lay person cannot live this same spirit in his or her home out in the world.
6. Do Penance
St. Columba’s Rule instructs, “Let your vigils be constant day by day, but always under the direction of another.” A footnote here indicates that “vigils” refers to cros figell or “cross vigil,” a penitential form of prayer where the hermit would pray standing with his arms outstretched as if on a cross for long periods of time.
Penance ought to be a part of every Christian’s spiritual practices. Note that the Rule instructs this penance to be performed “under the direction of another.” This is as a caution against going overboard in our penance. As Christians, we believe penance is good, holy and necessary. But we are not masochists.
We today ought to follow the Church’s guidelines on penance; keep the fasting days, perform some penance on Fridays of the year, and make frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Don’t take on too many personal penances without spiritual direction.
7. Forgive Others
The Rule instructs hermits to “forgive every person from your heart.” No further explanation is necessary. No adaptation for the modern life required. Forgive others. Period.
8. Pray, Work, Read
The Rule mentions three activities that make up the hermit’s daily occupation: prayer, manual labor, and lectio or “holy reading.” These are good daily endeavors for all of us. Obviously the particular work of a hermit or monk will be different than that of a layman in the world. But the principle still applies. We ought to spend some time each day in prayer, spiritual reading, and productive work. Remembering all three ensures one endeavor doesn’t dominate the others. Each is important.
9. Work Smart
Concerning daily work, the Rule specifies a three-fold division. First you should work to “fill your own needs and those of the place where you live.” Second you should “do your share of your brothers’ work.” Third, you should “help your neighbors.” Work for yourself and then for your community.
As Christians, we are reminded often of the need to serve others — and this is very true. But we also need to care for ourselves. We cannot, after all, serve others effectively if our own needs are not met. It is like the safety instructions given by flight attendants reminding us to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. We can’t very well help anyone if we pass out.
This advice readily applies to the married life. I need to fulfill my own daily needs, then the needs of my household & family. Only then can I adequately address the needs of my larger community.
10. Practice Moderation
The Rule contains a set of short precepts reminding the hermit to be moderate in all things. “Do not eat until you are hungry. Do not sleep until it is necessary. Do not speak until necessity demands.”
If we only eat when we are hungry, we avoid the sin of gluttony. If we only sleep when we are tired, we avoid the sin of sloth. If we only speak when we have something meaningful and necessary to say, we avoid the sin of gossip, calumny, detraction, and so many others. This is good advice for all of us to bear in mind.
11. Be Generous
Living moderately allows us to be more generous to others. The Rule reminds us that if we take less than our allowance of food and clothing, we will have more to share with the poor. It says, “Above and before all else practice almsgiving.” Again, this is good spiritual advice for all.
12. Be Zealous
The Benedictine focus on ora et labora, work and prayer, is a constant of every Rule of Life. The Rule of St. Columba instructs us to be particularly zealous in both of these areas. “The extent of your prayer should be until tears come,” and, “The measure of your work should be to labor until tears of exhaustion come.”
If you think praying and working until you cry sounds like a bit much, I would agree. Especially when you consider that tears come more freely to some than to others. However, the Rule holds this up as an ideal to strive for rather than an absolute requirement. Recognizing that this won’t be possible or practical to many, the Rule also states that if tears do not come, the limit of our prayer and work “should be perspiration.”
In other words, we shouldn’t be lazy in either our prayer or labor. We should engage in both until we are tired. But we shouldn’t force ourselves beyond exhaustion. We should be zealous, but not unreasonable, in our efforts.
13. Remember the Basics
Finally, St. Columba’s Rule instructs us to “Love God with all your heart and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as you would yourself.” These are the two great commandments given to us by Christ (Mt 22:37). Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22:40). And so any Rule of Life we adopt for ourselves must also depend on these basic tenets of the Christian faith.
After all, if our Rule does not help to to live these two commandments more fully and faithfully, then what’s the point?