By the grace of God Colum rose to exalted companionship;
awaiting bright signs, he kept watch while he lived.
His lifetime was short,
scant portions filled him.
He was learning’s pillar in every stronghold,
he was foremost at the book of complex Law.
- Dallàn Forgaill, Amra Choluimb Chille, Irish, 6th century
My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
More than my necessary food.
- Job 23.11, 12
The life of a Celtic monk like Colum Cille was short and spare. Most of his waking time was spent working, either at prayer, in the ministry of the Word in one form or another, serving within the community around his monastery, or providing for his needs and those of his companions.
It would be fair to say of the best of them, like Colum Cille, that they cared more for the Word of God than the conveniences and necessities of the flesh. Indeed, it was fierce hunger for God’s Word that resulted, as one account has it, in Colum’s being exiled from his native land to the barren island of Iona off the northwest coast of Scotland.
As a young monk, still in training, Colum was discovered surreptitiously making a copy of the gospels for personal use. This was strictly against monastic rule in those days, as resources such as velum and ink were scarce, and the life of a monk was about community and not self. Colum’s abbott, Finnian, insisted he relinquish the work into the keeping of the monastery’s scriptorium. Colum refused to hand over his treasured cathach (gospel book) until he was ordered to do so by the local king. Furious at the humiliation he endured, he provoked a war in which many were killed.
After all, he only wanted to have a copy of the gospels as his own possession.
But Colum sorrowed greatly at his hot-headed action, and he submitted to the discipline of the church. Church leaders recognized his love for the Word and skills in leadership, but they banished him from Ireland, so that he might prove his true commitment to the Lord in a foreign land.
Colum accepted exile as his penance. As sad as he was to leave his beloved homeland, he grew in joy daily by at last being free to devote himself to the Word and to proclaim and teach it with all his strength. As Dallàn notes, though his fleshly diet was scant, he feasted on God’s Word, and particularly His Law, until he became a pillar of truth beloved by contemporaries and successors alike.
How fierce is our love for God’s Word? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to possess more of the Word? To spend more time feeding on it? To share joyously what God is teaching us? What comforts and conveniences will you set aside to be more a person steeped in, devoted to, and fruitful in the Word of God?
When we’re hungry, we eat. We understand that our bodies need continual nourishment if they are to grow strong for serving the Lord. The same is true for our souls. If we do not feed our souls with the spiritual cuisine God has provided, our souls will shrivel, and we will have none of the boldness or fruit that was every day evident in Colum Cille, and which is available for us as well.
When, like Job and Jeremiah (Jer. 15.16), we truly hunger for God’s Word, we’ll find a way to feast more often on it. And the more we feed on the Word, the better fitted we will be for bright deeds and luminous words in our Personal Mission Field.
Questions for Reflection
1. What is one thing you could do to begin spending more time in the Word of God?
2. How can you make sure that what you read or learn in God’s Word becomes more a part of your daily life in your Personal Mission Field?
Psalm 19.7, 8 (St. Christopher: Beneath the Cross of Jesus)
The Law of God is perfect, His testimonies sure;
The simple man God’s wisdom learns, the soul receives its cure.
God’s Word is right, and His command is pure, and truth imparts;
He makes our eyes to understand; with joy He fills our hearts.
Feed me, Lord, with Your wonderful, nourishing Word, and help me live that Word today as I…
What was the Celtic Revival?
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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.
Clancy and Márkus, p. 107.