Wonderful compassion of the Creator! He permits us to be in need, that He may show His mercy by giving to the needy. He permits us to be tempted, that by aiding us in our temptations He may turn the hearts of His servants more fully to Himself. He permits His followers to be cruelly tortured that they may delight more fully in restored health.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
Observe the sorrow of our training, understand that we do not pass from joy to joy nor from security to security, but from grief to joy and from trial to security. Thus we must patiently bear brief sorrow, that we may obtain eternal joy; and the light measure of our trial must be endured with readiness, that we may attain the eternal life of great glory.
- Columbanus, Sermon IV
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding andeternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen aretemporary, but the things which are not seen areeternal.
- 2 Corinthians 4.17, 18
Over the twenty years that Columbanus and his team ministered in Burgundy, the relationship with Brunhilda and Theuderich continued to deteriorate for a number of reasons.
The queen regent perceived Columbanus as a threat to her ultimate authority. He would not baptize her illegitimate grandchildren until her son showed proper repentance for his sins. He refused to abide by the king’s command to remain on the grounds of his monastery; instead, he continued his circuit of ministry wherever the Lord led him. He would not allow the king to enter those places in his monasteries that were restricted to the monks only. He explained that people could come and go freely through all parts of the monasteries, except for those reserved for the monks, and that included the king. If Theuderich insisted on entering those private places, he would have to answer to God.
And just here was the real issue between Columbanus and the royal court: He was a constant reminder to Brunhilda and Theuderich that their authority was not absolute. They and he answered to a higher authority, even that of God Himself. Columbanus took this responsibility seriously, and acted on it faithfully, even when it meant opposing decisions and actions by the king and queen regent.
Enough was finally enough for Brunhilda, and she arranged for Columbanus and his Irish companions to be forcibly removed from their monasteries and deported to Ireland. None of the native monks were allowed to leave with them, and they were escorted to Nantes by armed guards, placed on a boat, and sent packing.
News of their ejection raced through Gaul like a wildfire, and people who were sick or possessed by demons hurried to intercept the monks as their vessel slowly and arduously made its way toward the sea. Many healings and miracles of provision occurred. In one situation, Columbanus further incurred the ire of the court by preaching to prisoners condemned – unjustly, it seems – to death, and by a miracle arranging for them to be set free.
On their journey they faced death threats, thieves, hunger and thirst, and the sorrow of being forcibly returned to their native land.
Evidently, this suffering, and the many wondrous ways God provided for Columbanus and his monks on their journey, overwhelmed Jonas, and he could not help but break off his narrative to exclaim in wonder and praise at how God sustained His servants through their continual trials. Their sorrows and uncertainties were continually transmuted into joy and safety as God watched over His persecuted servants, and they maintained their focus on Him.
Later in his life, Columbanus would teach his monks that this is the way of the Lord’s “training.” We do not come to maturity apart from growth, nor to improvement without exertion; and we do not know true joy or eternal security apart from suffering, trials, and hardship. Whatever “light affliction” we may endure in this life can, if we keep focused on the unseen glories of our Lord Jesus Christ, be suffused with joy and strength, so that we may continue to serve others despite our own sorrows.
God was not finished with Columbanus, as we shall see. But for the next phase of his ministry, he and his team would need to be stronger in the Lord and more dependent on Him than ever before. In His mercy and compassion, therefore, God allowed the monks to endure this arduous exile so that they might increase dependence on and delight in Him for the next phase of their calling.
Count it all joy, friends, when trials and sufferings come, and seek the Lord in the midst of them. Every momentary, light affliction we must endure in this life contains a weight of glory that can lift, transform, and further fit us for whatever our Creator has in mind for us next.
Psalm 13 (Melita: Eternal Father, Strong to Save)
How long, O Lord, O Lord, how long will You forget me and my song?
How long will You conceal Your face and keep from me Your precious grace?
How long must I my soul consult? When shall my weary heart exult?
Exalt not, Lord, my enemy; Lord, hear my prayer and answer me!
Give light unto my weary eyes; let not death claim me for its prize.
Let not my foe rejoice to say that I have fallen in the way.
Yet I have trusted, Lord, in You; Your lovingkindness sees me through.
My heart breaks forth in happy voice; in Your salvation I rejoice!
Thus I will sing triumphantly: “My God has dealt full well with me!”
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- T.M. Moore
- December 27, 2018
Afflictions are an essential part of our training.
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.