The widow’s mite
As Jesus looked up, he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; then he happened to notice a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.’
The redeemed have Christ and his Father’s name written on their foreheads
In my vision I, John, saw Mount Zion, and standing on it a Lamb who had with him a hundred and forty-four thousand people, all with his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound coming out of the sky like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder; it seemed to be the sound of harpists playing their harps. There in front of the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four animals and the elders, a hymn that could only be learnt by the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the world; they follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they have been redeemed from amongst men to be the first-fruits for God and for the Lamb. They never allowed a lie to pass their lips and no fault can be found in them.
Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.
The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the waters he made it firm.
Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.
Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.
He shall receive blessings from the Lord
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.
Source: Jerusalem Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Poverty of Heart
2544 Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them “renounce all that [they have]” for his sake and that of the Gospel. Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.
2545 All Christ’s faithful are to “direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty.”
2546 “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the Kingdom already belongs:
The Word speaks of voluntary humility as “poverty in spirit”; the Apostle gives an example of God’s poverty when he says: “For your sakes he became poor.”
2547 The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods. “Let the proud seek and love earthly kingdoms, but blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Abandonment to the providence of the Father in heaven frees us from anxiety about tomorrow. Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.
Pope Clement I (Latin: Clemens Romanus; Greek: Κλήμης Ῥώμης; died 99), also known as Saint Clement of Rome, is listed by Irenaeus and Tertullian as Bishop of Rome, holding office from 88 to his death in 99.He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church, one of the three chief ones together with Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch.
Few details are known about Clement’s life. Clement was said to have been consecrated by Peter, and he is known to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century. Early church lists place him as the second or third bishop of Rome after Peter. The Liber Pontificalis states that Clement died in Greece in the third year of Emperor Trajan’s reign, or 101 AD.
Clement’s only genuine extant writing is his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Clement) in response to a dispute in which certain presbyters of the Corinthian church had been deposed. He asserted the authority of the presbyters as rulers of the church on the ground that the Apostles had appointed such. His letter, which is one of the oldest extant Christian documents outside the New Testament, was read in church, along with other epistles, some of which later became part of the Christian canon. These works were the first to affirm the apostolic authority of the clergy. A second epistle, 2 Clement, was attributed to Clement, although recent scholarship suggests it to be a homily by another author. In the legendary Clementine Literature, Clement is the intermediary through whom the apostles teach the church.
According to tradition, Clement was imprisoned under the Emperor Trajan; during this time he is recorded to have led a ministry among fellow prisoners. Thereafter he was executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. Clement is recognized as a saint in many Christian churches and is considered a patron saint of mariners. He is commemorated on 23 November in the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and the Lutheran Church.In Eastern Orthodox Christianity his feast is kept on 24 or 25 November.
Columbanus (the Latinised form of Columbán, meaning the white dove) was born near Mount Leinster in the Kingdom of Leinster, now part of Leinster, in Ireland in 540, the year Benedict of Nursia died at Monte Cassino. Prior to his birth, his mother was said to have had visions of bearing a child who, in the judgment of those interpreting the visions, would become a “remarkable genius”. Columbanus was well-educated in the areas of grammar, rhetoric, geometry, and the Holy Scriptures.
Columbanus left home to study under Sinell, Abbot of Cleenish in Lough Erne.Under Sinell’s instruction, Columbanus composed a commentary on the Psalms. He then moved to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Comgall was serving as the abbot. He stayed at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he received Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.
Columbanus in Frankish Gaul
Columbanus gathered twelve companions for his journey—Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Domgal (Deicolus), Eogain, Eunan, Gallus, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert, and Waldoleno—and together they set sail for the continent. After a brief stop in Britain, most likely on the Scottish coast, they crossed the channel and landed in Brittany in 585.
At Saint-Malo in Brittany, there is a granite cross bearing Columbanus’s name to which people once came to pray for rain in times of drought. The nearby village of Saint-Coulomb commemorates him in name.
Columbanus and his companions were received with favour by King Gontram of Burgundy, and soon they made their way to Annegray, where they founded a monastery in an abandoned Roman fortress. Despite its remote location in the Vosges Mountains, the community became a popular pilgrimage site that attracted so many monastic vocations that two new monasteries had to be formed to accommodate them.
In 590, Columbanus obtained from King Gontram the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray. The castle, soon transformed into a monastery, was located in a wild region, thickly covered with pine forests and brushwood. Columbanus erected a third monastery called Ad-fontanas at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil, named for its numerous springs. These monastic communities remained under Columbanus’ authority, and their rules of life reflected the Irish tradition in which he had been formed.
As these communities expanded and drew more pilgrims, Columbanus sought greater solitude, spending periods of time in a hermitage and communicating with the monks through an intermediary. Often he would withdraw to a cave seven miles away, with a single companion who acted as messenger between himself and his companions.
During his twenty years in Gaul (in present-day France), Columbanus became involved in a dispute with the Frankish bishops who may have feared his growing influence. During the first half of the sixth century, the councils of Gaul had given to bishops absolute authority over religious communities. As heirs to the Irish monastic tradition, Columbanus and his monks used the Irish Easter calculation, a version of Bishop Augustalis’s 84-year computus for determining the date of Easter (Quartodecimanism), whereas the Franks had adopted the Victorian cycle of 532 years. The bishops objected to the newcomers’ continued observance of their own dating, which — among other issues — caused the end of Lent to differ. They also complained about the distinct Irish tonsure.
In 602, the bishops assembled to judge Columbanus, but he did not appear before them as requested. Instead, he sent a letter to the prelates — a strange mixture of freedom, reverence, and charity — admonishing them to hold synods more frequently, and advising them to pay more attention to matters of equal importance to that of the date of Easter. In defence of his following his traditional paschal cycle, he wrote:
I am not the author of this divergence. I came as a poor stranger into these parts for the cause of Christ, Our Saviour. One thing alone I ask of you, holy Fathers, permit me to live in silence in these forests, near the bones of seventeen of my brethren now dead.
When the bishops refused to abandon the matter, Columbanus, following St Patrick’s canon, appealed directly to Pope Gregory I. In the third and only surviving letter, he asks “the holy Pope, his Father” to provide “the strong support of his authority” and to render a “verdict of his favour”, apologising for “presuming to argue as it were, with him who sits in the chair of Peter, Apostle and Bearer of the Keys”. None of the letters were answered, most likely due to the pope’s death in 604.
Columbanus then sent a letter to Gregory’s successor, Pope Boniface IV, asking him to confirm the tradition of his elders — if it is not contrary to the Faith — so that he and his monks could follow the rites of their ancestors. Before Boniface responded, Columbanus moved outside the jurisdiction of the Frankish bishops. As the Easter issue appears to end around that time, Columbanus may have stopped celebrating Irish date of Easter after moving to Italy.
Columbanus was also involved in a dispute with members of the Frankish royal family. Upon the death of King Gontram of Burgundy, the succession passed to his nephew, Childebert II, the son of his brother Sigebert and Sigebert’s wife Brunhilda of Austrasia. When Childebert II died, he left two sons, Theuderic II who inherited the Kingdom of Burgundy, and Theudebert II who inherited the Kingdom of Austrasia. As both were minors, Brunhilda, their grandmother, declared herself their guardian and controlled the governments of the two kingdoms.
Theuderic II venerated Columbanus and often visited him, but Columbanus admonished and rebuked him for his behaviour. When Theuderic began living with a mistress, Columbanus objected, earning the displeasure of Brunhilda, who thought a royal marriage would threaten her own power. Columbanus did not spare the demoralised court, and Brunhilda became his bitterest foe. Angered by Columbanus’s stance, Brunhilda stirred up the bishops and nobles to find fault with his monastic rules. When Theuderic II finally confronted Columbanus at Luxeuil, ordering him to conform to the country’s conventions, Columbanus refused and was then taken prisoner to Besançon.
Columbanus managed to escape his captors and returned to his monastery at Luxeuil. When the king and his grandmother found out, they sent soldiers to drive him back to Ireland by force, separating him from his monks by insisting that only those from Ireland could accompany him into exile.
Columbanus was taken to Nevers, then travelled by boat down the Loire river to the coast. At Tours he visited the tomb of Martin of Tours, and sent a message to Theuderic II indicating that within three years he and his children would perish. When he arrived at Nantes, he wrote a letter before embarkation to his fellow monks at Luxeuil monastery.
The letter urged his brethren to obey Attala, who stayed behind as abbot of the monastic community.
The letter concludes:
They come to tell me the ship is ready. The end of my parchment compels me to finish my letter. Love is not orderly; it is this which has made it confused. Farewell, dear hearts of mine; pray for me that I may live in God.
Soon after the ship set sail from Nantes, a severe storm drove the vessel back ashore. Convinced that his holy passenger caused the tempest, the captain refused further attempts to transport the monk. Columbanus made his way across Gaul to visit King Chlothar II of Neustria at Soissons where he was gladly received. Despite the king’s offers to stay in his kingdom, Columbanus left Neustria in 611 for the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in the northeastern part of the Kingdom of the Merovingian Franks.
Columbanus travelled to Metz, where he received an honourable welcome, and then proceeding to Mainz, where he sailed upwards the Rhine river to the lands of the Suebi and Alemanni in the northern Alps, intending to preach the Gospel to these people. He followed the Rhine river and its tributaries, the Aar and the Limmat, and then on to Lake Zurich. Columbanus chose the village of Tuggen as his initial community, but the work was not successful. He continued north-east by way of Arbon to Bregenz on Lake Constance. Here he found an oratory dedicated to Aurelia of Strasbourg containing three brass images of their tutelary deities. Columbanus commanded Gallus, who knew the local language, to preach to the inhabitants, and many were converted. The three brass images were destroyed, and Columbanus blessed the little church, placing the relics of Aurelia beneath the altar. A monastery was erected, Mehrerau Abbey, and the brethren observed their regular life. Columbanus stayed in Bregenz for about one year. Following an uprising against the community, possibly related to that region being taken over by his old enemy King Theuderic II, Columbanus resolved to cross the Alps into Italy. Gallus remained in this area and died there 646. About seventy years later at the place of Gallus’ cell the Monastery of Saint Gall was founded, which in itself was the origin of the city of St. Gallen again about another three hundred years later.
Columbanus arrived in Milan in 612 and was warmly greeted by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda of the Lombards. He immediately began refuting the teachings of Arianism, which had enjoyed a degree of acceptance in Italy. He wrote a treatise against Arianism, which has since been lost. Queen Theodelinda, the devout daughter of Duke Garibald I of Bavaria, played an important role in restoring Nicene Christianity to a position of primacy against Arianism, and was largely responsible for the king’s conversion to Christianity.
At the king’s request, Columbanus wrote a letter to Pope Boniface IV on the controversy over the Three Chapters—writings by Syrian bishops suspected of Nestorianism, which had been condemned in the fifth century as heresy. Pope Gregory I had tolerated in Lombardy those persons who defended the Three Letters, among them King Agilulf. Columbanus agreed to take up the issue on behalf of the king. The letter begins with an apology that a “foolish Scot (Scottus, Irishman)” would be writing for a Lombard king. After acquainting the pope with the imputations brought against him, he entreats the pontiff to prove his orthodoxy and assemble a council. He writes that his freedom of speech is consistent with the custom of his country. Some of the language used in the letter might now be regarded as disrespectful, but in that time, faith and austerity could be more indulgent. At the same time, the letter expresses the most affectionate and impassioned devotion to the Holy See.
We Irish, though dwelling at the far ends of the earth, are all disciples of Saint Peter and Saint Paul … we are bound to the Chair of Peter, and although Rome is great and renowned, through that Chair alone is she looked on as great and illustrious among us … On account of the two Apostles of Christ, you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the whole world, and of the Churches.
If Columbanus’ zeal for orthodoxy caused him to overstep the limits of discretion, his real attitude towards Rome is sufficiently clear, calling the pope “his Lord and Father in Christ”, the “Chosen Watchman”, and the “First Pastor, set higher than all mortals”.
King Agilulf gave Columbanus a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa near the Trebbia river, situated in a defile of the Apennine Mountains, to be used as a base for the conversion of the Lombard people. The area contained a ruined church and wastelands known as Ebovium, which had formed part of the lands of the papacy prior to the Lombard invasion. Columbanus wanted this secluded place, for while enthusiastic in the instruction of the Lombards he preferred solitude for his monks and himself. Next to the little church, which was dedicated to Peter the Apostle, Columbanus erected a monastery in 614. Bobbio Abbey at its foundation followed the Rule of Saint Columbanus, based on the monastic practices of Celtic Christianity. For centuries it remained the stronghold of orthodoxy in northern Italy.
Stone bridge over the Trebbia river leading to Bobbio Abbey in northern Italy
During the last year of his life, Columbanus received messenges from King Chlothar II, inviting him to return to Burgundy, now that his enemies were dead. Columbanus did not return, but requested that the king should always protect his monks at Luxeuil Abbey. He prepared for death by retiring to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia river, where, according to a tradition, he had dedicated an oratory to Our Lady. Columbanus died at Bobbio on 21 November 615.
Rule of Saint Columbanus
The Rule of Saint Columbanus embodied the customs of Bangor Abbey and other Irish monasteries. Much shorter than the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Rule of Saint Columbanus consists of ten chapters, on the subjects of obedience, silence, food, poverty, humility, chastity, choir offices, discretion, mortification, and perfection.
In the first chapter, Columbanus introduces the great principle of his Rule: obedience, absolute and unreserved. The words of seniors should always be obeyed, just as “Christ obeyed the Father up to death for us.” One manifestation of this obedience was constant hard labour designed to subdue the flesh, exercise the will in daily self-denial, and set an example of industry in cultivation of the soil. The least deviation from the Rule entailed corporal punishment, or a severe form of fasting. In the second chapter, Columbanus instructs that the rule of silence be “carefully observed”, since it is written: “But the nurture of righteousness is silence and peace”. He also warns, “Justly will they be damned who would not say just things when they could, but preferred to say with garrulous loquacity what is evil …” In the third chapter, Columbanus instructs, “Let the monks’ food be poor and taken in the evening, such as to avoid repletion, and their drink such as to avoid intoxication, so that it may both maintain life and not harm …” Columbanus continues:
For indeed those who desire eternal rewards must only consider usefulness and use. Use of life must be moderated just as toil must be moderated, since this is true discretion, that the possibility of spiritual progress may be kept with a temperance that punishes the flesh. For if temperance exceeds measure, it will be a vice and not a virtue; for virtue maintains and retains many goods. Therefore we must fast daily, just as we must feed daily; and while we must eat daily, we must gratify the body more poorly and sparingly …”
In the fourth chapter, Columbanus presents the virtue of poverty and of overcoming greed, and that monks should be satisfied with “small possessions of utter need, knowing that greed is a leprosy for monks”. Columbanus also instructs that “nakedness and disdain of riches are the first perfection of monks, but the second is the purging of vices, the third the most perfect and perpetual love of God and unceasing affection for things divine, which follows on the forgetfulness of earthly things. Since this is so, we have need of few things, according to the word of the Lord, or even of one.” In the fifth chapter, Columbanus warns against vanity, reminding the monks of Jesus’ warning in Luke 16:15: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” In the sixth chapter, Columbanus instructs that “a monk’s chastity is indeed judged in his thoughts” and warns, “What profit is it if he be virgin in body, if he be not virgin in mind? For God, being Spirit.”
In the seventh chapter, Columbanus instituted a service of perpetual prayer, known as laus perennis, by which choir succeeded choir, both day and night. In the eighth chapter, Columbanus stresses the importance of discretion in the lives of monks to avoid “the downfall of some, who beginning without discretion and passing their time without a sobering knowledge, have been unable to complete a praiseworthy life.” Monks are instructed to pray to God for to “illumine this way, surrounded on every side by the world’s thickest darkness”. Columbanus continues:
So discretion has got its name from discerning, for the reason that it discerns in us between good and evil, and also between the moderate and the complete. For from the beginning either class has been divided like light and darkness, that is, good and evil, after evil began through the devil’s agency to exist by the corruption of good, but through God’s agency Who first illumines and then divides. Thus righteous Abel chose the good, but unrighteous Cain fell upon evil.”
In the ninth chapter, Columbanus presents mortification as an essential element in the lives of monks, who are instructed, “Do nothing without counsel.” Monks are warned to “beware of a proud independence, and learn true lowliness as they obey without murmuring and hesitation.” According to the Rule, there are three components to mortification: “not to disagree in mind, not to speak as one pleases with the tongue, not to go anywhere with complete freedom.” This mirrors the words of Jesus, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38) In the tenth and final chapter, Columbanus regulates forms of penance (often corporal) for offences, and it is here that the Rule of Saint Columbanus differs significantly from that of Saint Benedict.
The Communal Rule of Columbanus required monks to fast every day until None or 3 p.m., this was later relaxed and observed on designated days.Columbanus’ Rule regarding diet was very strict. Monks were to eat a limited diet of beans, vegetables, flour mixed with water and small bread of a loaf, taken in the evenings.
The habit of the monks consisted of a tunic of undyed wool, over which was worn the cuculla, or cowl, of the same material. A great deal of time was devoted to various kinds of manual labour, not unlike the life in monasteries of other rules. The Rule of Saint Columbanus was approved of by the Fourth Council of Mâcon in 627, but it was superseded at the close of the century by the Rule of Saint Benedict. For several centuries in some of the greater monasteries the two rules were observed conjointly.
Columbanus did not lead a perfect life. According to Jonas and other sources, he could be impetuous and even headstrong, for by nature he was eager, passionate, and dauntless. These qualities were both the source of his power and the cause of his mistakes. His virtues, however, were quite remarkable. Like many saints, he had a great love for God’s creatures. Stories claim that as he walked in the woods, it was not uncommon for birds to land on his shoulders to be caressed, or for squirrels to run down from the trees and nestle in the folds of his cowl. Although a strong defender of Irish traditions, he never wavered in showing deep respect for the Holy See as the supreme authority. His influence in Europe was due to the conversions he effected and to the rule that he composed. It may be that the example and success of Columba in Caledonia inspired him to similar exertions. The life of Columbanus stands as the prototype of missionary activity in Europe, followed by such men as Kilian, Vergilius of Salzburg, Donatus of Fiesole, Wilfrid, Willibrord, Suitbert of Kaiserwerdt, Boniface, and Ursicinus of Saint-Ursanne.