November 19, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Columban

John F. FinkHumans can be like God, St. Columban tells us.

Columban, whose feast day is on Nov. 23, was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. Born in Ireland in the sixth century, he became a monk on an island in Lough Erne then went to Ireland’s great monastic seat of learning at Bangor.

He led 12 other monks to Gaul, modern France, where he established several monasteries that became centers of learning.

But when he admonished the king for his licentious life, he was ordered back to Ireland. His ship, though, ran aground in a storm, and he ended up in Italy. There, he founded the monastery of Bobbio, where he died in 615.

In one of his instructions, Columban wrote that “it is a glorious privilege that God should grant humans his eternal image and the likeness of his character. For the Bible says, ‘God made man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them’ ”(Gn 1:27).

Just consider the dignity of those words, he said. “It is a glorious privilege that God should grant man his eternal image and the likeness of his character. Man’s likeness to God, if he preserves it, imparts high dignity.”

Furthermore, he wrote, humans will be like God if they apply the virtues planted in their souls to the right purpose. We have only to keep his commands, he said, and the first command is to love God with our whole heart because he loved us first from the beginning, well before our existence.

If we love God, he said, we will keep his commandments, and his second command is that we love one another. True love, he said, is shown not merely in word, but in deed and in truth.

Since we were created in God’s image, he wrote, we must keep our image undefiled and holy. “We must restore his image with love,” he said, “for he is love; in John’s words: ‘God is love’ ”(1 Jn 4:8).

God is also loyal and truthful, he wrote, so, since we were created in his image, we too must be loyal and truthful. Someone who is harsh and irascible, he said, displays the image of a despot, not that of God.

Let Christ paint his image in us with his words, “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you” (Jn 14:27), Columban wrote. However, he said, simply the knowledge that peace is good is of no benefit if we don’t practice it.

He observed that the most valuable objects are usually the most fragile, and that costly things require the most careful handling.

“Particularly fragile,” he said, “is that which is lost by wanton talk and destroyed with the slightest injury of a brother [or sister].”

People like nothing better than to discuss and mind the business of others, he said, “passing superfluous comments at random and criticizing people behind their backs.”

We should keep silent, he said, or if we do say something it should promote peace. †

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