Friday, November 27, 2009

St. Columban and Matt Talbot

St. Columban was perhaps Matt Talbot's favorite Irish saint, and Matt financially supported the Missionary Society of St. Columban in China (JB)

St. Columban
November 25, 2009

Columban was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. As a young man he was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, and 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 slackness and civil strife. Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture.

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 ordered deported back to Ireland. 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. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry and his monastic rule.


Now that public sexual license is approaching the extreme, we need the Church's jolting memory of a young man as concerned about chastity as Columban. And now that the comfort-captured Western world stands in tragic contrast to starving millions, we need the challenge to austerity and discipline of a group of Irish monks. They were too strict, we say; they went too far. How far shall we go?


Writing to the pope about a doctrinal controversy in Lombardy, Columban said: “We Irish, living in the farthest parts of the earth, are followers of St. Peter and St. Paul and of the disciples who wrote down the sacred canon under the Holy Spirit. We accept nothing outside this evangelical and apostolic teaching.... I confess I am grieved by the bad repute of the chair of St. Peter in this country.... Though Rome is great and known afar, she is great and honored with us only because of this chair.... Look after the peace of the Church, stand between your sheep and the wolves.”

(This entry appears in the print edition of Saint of the Day.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All the Saints of Ireland

Pope Benedict XV beatified Oliver Plunkett in 1920 and during his papacy also (1914-22) the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland was instituted.

Only four canonised saints
Only four saints, St Malachy (1094-1148), St Lawrence O'Toole (1128-80) and St Oliver Plunkett (1625-81) and St Charles of Mount Argus (1821-93), have been officially canonised. All the other Irish saints, such as Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille, are saints, as it were, by acclamation of the local Church.

"Canonisation" as a process can be said to have begun when the name of a martyr was included in the dyptichs (or prayer lists) proclaimed by the deacon during Mass. This process would have been overseen by the local Church authority, especially the bishop. Later the names of holy people who were not martyrs, such as Saint Hilarion and Saint Ephrem the Syrian in the East, and Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the West, were included. But it was only in 1170 that Alexander III issued a decree arrogating to the Pope alone the right to declare a person a saint as regards the Church of the West. This was confirmed in 1200 by a bull of Pope Innocent III.

The scope of the feast
The scope of this feast, while it includes canonised saints, is wider. It also includes those who had a reputation for holiness and whose causes for canonisation have not yet been completed, such as Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy (1455-92), the seventeen Irish martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) and the Servant of God [now Venerable] Matt Talbot (1856-1925) and people like Legion of Mary envoys Edel Quinn and Alfie Lamb, whose causes have already been introduced. But it also includes those whose lives of sanctity were known only to their families, friends or members of their parish diocese or religious community.

An exchange of spiritual goods
Like All Saints (1 Nov) and All Souls (2 Nov), this is a celebration of the communio sanctorum, that is, a sharing, not only of the "holy persons" (sancti and sanctae), but also of the "holy things" (sancta). As the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church of Vatican II taught:

"So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethern who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods" (LG 49).

Island of Saints and Scholars
The reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15 echoes the theme of "the island of saints and scholars" which was so strong in Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century.

Let us praise illustrious men,
our ancestors in their successive generations.
The Lord has created an abundance of glory,
and displayed his greatness from earliest times.


Note: For a listing of and information about Irish saints, click

All Saints Day

November 1

This solemnity or feast of All Saints Day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven, while the next day, All Souls' Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. Both feasts have taken on some of the characteristics of the Celtic winter feast of "Samhain", as reflected in the customs of Halloween.

Eastern origin
The feast of All Souls is probably of Eastern origin. In the early centuries Christians celebrated the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the early fourth century, following the persecution of Diocletian, martyrs became so many that a separate day could not be assigned to each and the Church assigned a common day for all, celebrated in the East on the first Sunday after Pentecost: Homilies for the feast by St Ephrem the Syrian (373) and St John Chrysostom (407) are extant.

Development in Rome
In the West the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) handed over to Pope Boniface IV (608-615) the Pantheon, originally built as a temple to all the Roman gods. On 13 May 610, Pope Boniface dedicated it as a church to St Mary and all the martyrs. But the anniversary was fixed for 1 November by Pope Gregory III (731-741) who consecrated a chapel to all the saints in St Peter's Basilica.

Ireland and England
The 9th century Irish Martyrology of Aengus (828-833) has a feast for All Saints on 1 November. The feast became known in England and Ireland as All Hallow's from which we get Halloween (the evening before All Hallows). It also took on some of the characteristics of the Celtic feast of Samhain. (See Féile na Samhna: an bhunchiall)

Who is included?
The scope of the feast includes all those officially recognised as saints, those whose cause for canonisation has not yet been completed, like Matt Talbot, the Irish Martyrs, Cardinal Newman and Pope John XXIII. But it also includes those whose holy lives were known only to their family, friends or religious communities. Chapter V of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium of Vatican II is entitled The Call to Holiness and insists that the "all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (LG 40).