Thursday, June 09, 2011

St. Columba

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 964)
Psalms 105:1-22 (morning)      105:23-45 (evening)
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-32
Hebrews 7:18-28
Luke 10:25-37

I always think of Columba as the patron saint of people who have really screwed up big time. 

Legend has it that Columba was a student monk in the famous Clonard Abbey in Ireland.  He secretly copied a manuscript of the Psalms which was in the scriptorium under the authority of St. Finian.  When Finian discovered what Columba had done, he demanded that the copy be given to him as the rightful owner.  Columba refused. 

According to the version of the story that I first heard, there was a lawsuit.  In court, Finian prevailed.  The judge reasoned "To every cow, its calf; to every manuscript, its copy.  Columba return the manuscript to Finian."  Columba refused, and provoked a clan conflict that led to the bloody battle of Cul Dreimhne (561).  Columba was threatened with excommunication for the violence and deaths, but St. Brenden spoke on his behalf, and he was allowed to go into exile.

Columba departed with a small group of followers.  He sailed east from Ireland.  When he reached the isle of Iona, it is said that he went to the top of the island.  From the summit, he could no longer see his homeland, so there he settled.  He vowed never to return to Ireland until he had converted to Christ at least as many men as he was responsible for killing through the violence he had provoked.

Columba founded the celebrated monastery at Iona and from there launched missionary journeys into Scotland, through the Highlands as far as Aberdeen.  He is credited with converting the tribe of the Picts.  For thirty years, he evangelized, studied, wrote, and established a vital monastery at Iona.  He eventually returned to Ireland for church synods and established connections between Ireland and the church of the Picts.  His biographer Adamnan records that he died peacefully while working on a copy of the Psalms.  He put down his pen, rested for a bit, at at the time of Matins, he was found dead before the altar with a smile on his face.  According to Adamnan, he spoke this on his last day:  "This day is called in the sacred Scriptures a day of rest, and truly to me it will be such, for it is the last of my life and I shall enter into rest after the fatigues of my labor."

His followers continued his missionary efforts and founded other monastic communities, among them St. Aiden who founded the monastery on Holy Isle at Lindisfarne in Northumbria on the eastern coast of Britain.  Columba is revered as one of the patron saints of Scotland and much beloved in Ireland as well.  The first church that I served as rector was dedicated to him -- St. Columb's in Jackson, Mississippi.

Not many of us will be guilty of such pride and violence as Columba, whose actions were judged criminal and cost the lives of many people.  Yet he redeemed his mistakes and became one of this shining lights of Christian history.  His monastery at Iona is a place of pilgrimage today, and a vital community dedicated to peace and social justice thrives there in his memory.



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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
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God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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