Columba of Iona: Fasts and Vigils

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There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“According to tradition St. Columba was tall and of dignified mien. Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work” (Praef., II). His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his supposed part in the battle of Cooldrevny but also because of irritant related by Adamnan (II, xxiii sq.) But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent. The stone pillow on which he slept is said to be still preserved in Iona. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Notwithstanding his wonderful austerities, Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, “for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul”. (Praef., II.)”

Columba (521-597) was abbot of Iona. This account is informed by the writings of Adamnan (624-704) who was abbot of Iona shortly after him. This post is for my mother. My ancestry traces to Iona through her. She was curious to see if I could locate the Lenten disciplines there, and I did (source: New Advent). Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!

While this is not a traditional meditation, I like to make posts like this occasionally to inspire us to think how we want to be remembered: for grace and generosity, for standing up for victims of injustice, and for fasting and vigils (late night or early morning prayers) that released the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.

Columba’s legacy reminded me of Anna in today’s Scripture who was also known for her fasting and praying. No wonder she had such a long and fruitful prophetic ministry. Her worship or service night and day was fasting and praying. Through those disciplines she tapped in to all that is good and blessed others daily in the Temple.

This excerpt about Columba touched me most deeply: “He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent.” What a legacy!

Father, make it so for my life and for each one reading this. Thank you for my ancestors and their deep faith. Following in their footsteps, cause our fasting and vigils to shape us into people known for humility, charity, generosity, and kindness by the power the Holy Spirit at work in us. Do this, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray for me as I fly to Houston, Texas, and then to Lexington, Kentucky, today to facilitate meetings of presidents and senior administrators of 13 leading seminaries on Tuesday and Wednesday at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to serve them well. Thank you.