The late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich of Ireland, who was an expert on the life of St Columban and a devotee of the saint, wrote in his book Columbanus in his own words: ‘He was a missionary through circumstance, a monk by vocation; a contemplative, too frequently driven to action by the world; a pilgrim on the road to Paradise’.
We Columban Missionaries, priests, Sisters and lay, are not missionaries through circumstance but by choice, in response to God’s call. But, like our patron, we are pilgrims and called to be contemplatives.
Father Pádraig Ó Croiligh of the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, wrote the foreword to his book Brúitíní Creidimh, a collection of short contemplative poems of faith, on the Feast of St Brigid three years ago. The title could be translated as Mashed Potatoes of Faith. Perhaps a similar book in the Philippines might be called Rice Toppings of Faith.
The opening stanza of Oilithreacht – Pilgrimage – reads:
Tóg leat do bhata is cuir chun bóthair.
Bíodh an Bíobla i do láimh agus Dia i do chroí,
Do Phaidrín i do phóca agat agus bia ar do dhroim leat
Agus gan ar do intinn ach turas an tsaoil.
I am no poet but Father Ó Croiligh’s words could be translated as:
Take your stick and hit the road,
The Bible in your hand and God in your heart,
Your Rosary in your pocket and food in your backpack
And nothing on your mind but the journey of life.
To some extent the opening of that poem reflects a very short verse written in Irish in the ninth century:
Teacht don Róimh:
Mór saothar, beag tairbhe –
An Rí a lorgaíonn tú abhus,
Murar thug leat É, ní bhfaighidh.
Contemporary Irish poet Thomas Kinsella translates this as:
Getting to Rome
is great labour, little use.
The King you look for here
you won’t find unless you bring Him.
When St Columban left Bangor he probably had no idea where his journey would take him. He sent many letters to Rome, especially to the popes of his day, some of them about how the date of Easter should be calculated. But this great missionary, born into a Christian community that had lived the faith for no more than 100 years, certainly brought with him the King he was looking for. Extracts from his writings are scattered through the Office of Readings in the Prayer of the Church, testimony to the depth of his faith.
I’ve no idea where this blog will lead to, whether or not anyone will read it and respond to it. But if St Columban were around today I’m quite sure he’d use the resources of the internet to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.