Today is the memorial of a saint who is not well known by most but has something important to teach us about our call to unity in Church and society. St. Columbanus (or St. Columban as he is also called) was an Irish monk, born in 543, who died in Bobbio, in Northwest Italy in 615. In 591, St. Columbanus left his monastery in the north of Ireland, arriving in France before moving to Switzerland, Austria, and finally settling in Italy. In these countries, he founded important monastic holdings, which became centers of education, community, and spirituality and played a vital role in the renaissance of Christianity in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of civilization thereafter. As a monastic founder, St. Columbanus left a significant body of writing and instruction, much of which was concerned directly or indirectly with the theme of unity.

Columbanus’ teaching and monastic rule were not without controversy. In the early seventh century, he found himself on a collision course with the French bishops, who called him to account over the date of his celebration of Easter, which was at odds with the Roman calendar observed by the French at the time. Although Columbanus was summoned to a synod to account for himself, he declined to attend and instead replied with a letter that addressed the controversy.

In his letter, Columbanus was anxious to resolve the dispute but insisted that this take place within the context of the unity of the Church. He was adamant that in all attempts to reconcile with the French, the bonds of unity between the parties be maintained. As he wrote in the context of a dispute between the Irish and French, Columbanus grasped the perennial danger of harmony being compromised—not just by theological or liturgical controversies, but also along the fault lines of national and ethnic diversity. He famously wrote in his letter to the French: “Fathers, pray for us as we also do for you, wretched though we be, and refuse to consider us estranged from you; for we are fellow members of one body, whether Franks or Britons or Irish or whatever our race may be” (Letter 2, 23).

Praise the Lord

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