Nov 23 – Memorial for St. Clement I, pope, martyr; Memorial for St. Columban, abbot
St. 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
St. 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wrote a Rule for them; it incorporated many Celtic practices, and was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, but was superseded by the Benedictine.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.
“You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.”
Wow! What a hard passage to read and digest. At first glance, I wondered how many followers Jesus lost by telling them that they will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relations and friends; some will be put to death, all on account of His name!
It will most certainly make anyone reconsider following Jesus if they have to suffer thus. But don’t turn away so quickly. If you do, you will miss the promise that our Lord made to those who endured all things in His name.
First, He promised to provide “eloquence and wisdom” for our defense. Have you ever experienced a moment when you disagreed with someone and you could not think of something to say to refute them; and only after the fact, you think to yourself, “Oh! I should have said this or that!” Well, I for one, have always lacked the quick wit to respond to discussions or debates. I need the time to digest information and formulate responses. But with our Lord’s promise, we will never have to worry about not having the right things to say to defend our faith, and ourselves, against accusations. The Lord will provide in such a way that the eloquence and wisdom expressed will be difficult to refute by the accusers.
Secondly, He promised that even those closest to us may betray us — He will never abandon us. In fact, He promised that “not a hair of your head will be lost”. That kind of guarantee can only come from someone who has extreme confidence in their ability to deliver on their promise. And our Lord can definitely deliver! Our Lord, the God of all creation, the master of the physical and spiritual realms — for Him, nothing is impossible. What is more important with this promise is that He promises to be with us, until the very end; never leaving our side. That is indeed comforting to know.
The only thing He asks is that we stay true to our faith, to Him, to His teachings; to endure all things for the sake of His name. Our endurance will ensure that we gain our lives. Not just any lives, but eternal lives in Heaven, in God’s dwelling place. Imagine that!
(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)
Prayer: Dear Lord, please grant us the strength and faith to endure all things in Your Name. In exercising endurance, may we grow more and more in our faith, love and trust of You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for Your love and mercy. For never leaving our side even though we may turn our backs on you. Thank you for always waiting for us, to receive us again. For this and so much more, we say praise and thank you!
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