I write this as we approach the great feast day of Columba, 9th June and this year as we prepare to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of his birth. I was baptized in Saint Columb’s Waterside, went to school in Saint Colmcille’s, Newtowncunningham and then on to Saint Eunan’s Letterkenny. (Eunan was the biographer of Columba.) Founding a Community in Derry in 1981, during the ‘Troubles’, it was no surprise that I chose Columba, the great reconciler, as our patron.
What can we learn from his life? He was a man of noble birth who gave up his birthright to follow God’s call to holiness and service, becoming a pilgrim for Christ with a great zeal for spreading the good news. He was a man of prayer who knew his own weaknesses and flaws but who believed that the mercy of God was bigger than his sin, living the scripture “in my weakness His power is made manifest.” Isn’t that so true in our own lives? It is often our weakness, our powerlessness that make us seek the Lord and can bring us into a new experience of faith and the love that casts out fear, guilt and anger which are the blocks to living in the freedom of the children of God.
In many ways the hymn, “Sometimes in a Lonely Cell” gives us a unique insight into his spirituality. It tells of Columba’s silent listening to God and being obedient to his prompting so that he could help those in despair who came to the monastery in Iona-whether they were chieftains or beggars they were welcomed. The scriptures tell us that God never withdraws His gifts and I believe that the gifts He gave to Columba are available to us today here in his beloved Derry and Donegal. His gift of prophecy, his gift of healing, his gift of faith, his gift of discernment are all present in our church, when we open ourselves to God, yield to the Holy Spirit and seek His will.
There is a beautiful piece in the Rule of Columba where the monks are encouraged to “pray until tears come.” Surely these were the times in prayer when he wanted them to realise that God loved them unconditionally, God forgave them totally and God wanted to use them to help others. This is the good news that Columba preached and proclaimed as he converted many to Christ. This is the good news for us today, the unconditional love and mercy of God which, when we realise how blessed we are, will lead us into service.
In our centres – Columba House, St Anthony’s, White Oaks and the Celtic Garden we have been encouraged by Psalm 34, the last psalm Columba was reputed to have been writing. It states,
“Those who seek the Lord shall want for no manner of good thing.”
If we are to follow the example of Columba we will pray and discern what the Lord’s will is for us in the little everyday decisions as well as the major challenges in life. God will never be outdone in generosity.
The last words of Columba to his monks were,
“Have unfeigned love amongst yourselves and if you follow the example of the Holy Fathers, God the comforter of the good will be your helper and abiding with him I will intercede for you …” Saint Columba pray for us. Amen
Fr Neal Carlin is the founder of the Columba Community, Derry and Donegal www.columbacommunity.com