The Catholic Defender: The Saint Columban Story
Columban (Columbanus) was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent.
As a young man who was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, he sought the advice of a religious woman who had lived a hermit’s life for years.
He saw in her answer a call to leave the world.
He went first to a monk on an island in Lough Erne, then to the great monastic seat of learning at Bangor.
After many years of seclusion and prayer, he traveled to Gaul with 12 companion missionaries.
They won wide respect for the rigor of their discipline, their preaching, and their commitment to charity and religious life in a time characterized by clerical laxity and civil strife.
Once a certain peasant who, with his whole family, had listened to and learned through an interpreter the word of life preached by the holy man, believed and was baptized the husband, together with his wife, children, and domestics.
A very few days after his conversion, one of the sons of this householder was attacked with a dangerous illness and brought to the very borders of life and death.
When the Druids saw him in a dying state they began with great bitterness to upbraid his parents, and to extol their own gods as more powerful than the God of the Christians, and thus to despise God as though He were weaker than their gods.
When all this was told to the blessed man, he burned with zeal for God, and proceeded with some of his companions to the house of the friendly peasant, where he found the afflicted parents celebrating the obsequies of their child, who was newly dead.
The saint, on seeing their bitter grief, strove to console them with words of comfort, and exhorted them not to doubt in any way the omnipotence of God. He then inquired, saying, "In what chamber is the dead body of your son lying?" And being conducted by the bereaved father under the sad roof, he left the whole crowd of persons who accompanied him outside, and immediately entered by himself into the house of mourning, where, falling on his knees, he prayed to Christ our Lord, having his face bedewed with copious tears. Then rising from his kneeling posture, he turned his eyes towards the deceased and said, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, arise, and stand upon thy feet." At the sound of this glorious word from the saint, the soul returned to the body, and the person that was dead opened his eyes and revived. The apostolic man then taking him by the hand raised him up, and placing him in a standing position, d him forth with him from the house, and restored him to his parents. Upon this the cries of the applauding multitude broke forth, sorrow was turned into joy, and the God of the Christians glorified.
while traveling along the River Ness, Columba comes upon a group burying a man said to have been dragged underwater and killed by an unknown beast in the water. One of Columba’s companions decides to cross the river himself and is subsequently pursued by the creature, which opens its jaws with a terrible roar! Columba saves his friend by making the Sign of the Cross and commanding the monster to “go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” The creature beats a hasty retreat, and the astonished people glorify God.
St. Columba was working to evangelize. His defeat of the monster by the Sign of the Cross may signify Christianity’s victory over the darkness of the old pagan religions and their false (and often bloodthirsty) gods. The creature could also represent the darkness of sin that exists in every human heart, and which can be overcome through Jesus Christ and his Cross.
He became the abbot and missionary traditionally credited with the main role in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity.
Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry, and his monastic rule.
Arianism was an influential heresy denying the divinity of Christ, originating with the Alexandrian priest Arius 250–336). Arianism maintained that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither coeternal with the Father, nor consubstantial.
Like all saints, he met opposition. Ultimately he had to appeal to the pope against complaints of Frankish bishops, for vindication of his orthodoxy and approval of Irish customs.
He reproved the king for his licentious life, insisting that he marry. Since this threatened the power of the queen mother, Columban was deported back to Ireland.
In the Bible St. John the Baptist has a similar story:
Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Mark 6:18
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galations 5:19-23
His ship ran aground in a storm, and he continued his work in Europe, ultimately arriving in Italy, where he found favor with the king of the Lombards. In his last years he established the famous monastery of Bobbio, where he died. Saint Columban's liturgical feast is celebrated on November 23.
Fearing that we would run aground on a rocky coast, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. The sailors then tried to abandon ship; they lowered the dinghy to the sea on the pretext of going to lay out anchors from the bow. But Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes of the dinghy and set it adrift. Until the day began to dawn, Paul kept urging all to take some food. He said, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been waiting, going hungry and eating nothing. I urge you, therefore, to take some food; it will help you survive. Not a hair of the head of anyone of you will be lost.” When he said this, he took bread, gave thanks to God in front of them all, broke it, and began to eat. They were all encouraged, and took some food themselves. In all, there were two hundred seventy-six of us on the ship. After they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea. When day came they did not recognize the land, but made out a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore on it, if they could. Acts 27: 27-39
A white dove, Columban, the symbol of peace, sits calmly at the feet of the saint. In his right hand, he holds a staff in the form of a cross, as a sign of his missionary vision and a symbol of his authority. He is regarded as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.