Since November 15, we - Formation House, Columban Sisters' Novitiate and the Lay Mission community have been having novena at the Formation House in preparation for the celebration of the feast of St. Columban.
I am honored and pleased to share with you my reflections for the 9th day of the novena.
Happy St. Columban's Day!
When we first thought of joining the Columbans two or five or 15 years ago, how much do we know of the life of St. Columban? What particular qualities of St. Columban inspired us to join the Columban Missionaries? What is Columban himself? Or the founders – Bishop Galvin and John Blowick? Or was I encouraged by the life of a Columban priest, sister, or lay missionary or co-worker who was my role model? Maybe our answers are as varied as the number of people gathered here this morning.
Perhaps most of you are luckier than me for having had a personal experience with a Columban before you arrived at Rosario Drive. Because I never knew of any Columban before I joined Lay Mission. I have never met one. Maybe the closest I got were the columns of Shay Cullen that I used to read in the Sunday Inquirer. But when I was following Shay’s column, I never knew that he was a Columban. I discovered that Shay Cullen is a Columban only after I joined the Lay Mission. The voice of Mick McGuire was probably the voice of the first Columban I have ever heard. And that was when I inquired about the lay mission. But for most of you, you have some personal encounter or relationship with a Columban. And this personal relationship must have some influence in your decision to become a Columban missionary.
It took an Oblate bishop and a Carmelite sister to lead me to the Columbans. We went through the Catholic Directory of the Philippines and when we came across the page about the Columban Missionaries, they encouraged to me to give it a try. They did not mention anything about charism or spirituality. As true friends they were very concerned if I would be left out in conversations. They assured me that ‘you won’t get lost there’ since they are very committed to social justice issues. They were trying to assure me that I could contribute to the conversation because I have some understanding of social justice issues, and if I may add, from a technical perspective.
If I knew nothing at all about St. Columban when I first inquired about lay mission, what is that I have come to discover in his life, in the life of John Blowick and Bishop Galvin, and in the life of every Columban – lay missionary, ordained, student, Columban Sister, co-workers, benefactors that I have come to know and which have inspired me to stay?
For me it has been a privilege to have come to know the Columbans personally as well as to be inspired by the life of St. Columban, our founders, and Columbans who have gone before us. For the last 11 years friendships were born, nourished and nurtured. My faith has been enriched by the gift of the lives of Columbans – priests, sisters, fellow lay missionaries, co-workers, the people who care for us, and our benefactors. My missionary vocation has been deepened by meaningful and varied experiences on mission – from strangers becoming friends, amazing welcome and hospitality of the people, from learning the language, memorizing the names of the members of our parish community, being amazed by the uniqueness and richness of cultural and religious rituals, preparing an inculturated Hindi mass, attending Hindu rituals and living for four years with a Muslim family. My life has been coloured by personal and enriching relationships with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, Methodists, and the Filipinos who live in Fiji for their tremendous support and encouragement on mission. My sense of understanding of the world has been sharpened because I have been blessed with a new way of looking at myself, at others, and what is happening in the world today.
But there were times when I could not make a sense of what was going on and I simply wanted to pack up and go. There were times when I felt that I was needed more at home than here in Rosario Drive. There were times when I felt frustrated because I wanted to be nice and I couldn’t be nice. There were moments when I felt so tired because I thought I was superwoman and I discovered that I wasn’t Superwoman and will never be. And what is keeping me to stay? This might sound familiar. But I still have to say it. It must be in the name of love. It must be Christ.
Columbans and his followers endured many trials and difficulties. Food was scarce. They had to travel by foot and by sea for long periods of time. They were strangers. They were different. There was local opposition. There was tension in his own community. What kept them going? It must be love. It must be Christ.
Despite difficulties Columbans and his followers must have been experiencing something very profound and deep in their hearts. They were doing their mission in the name of love and for Christ. But their own personal experiences of Christ were being radiated into the community and to each other. By the sharing of their experiences of God, they were leading each other to Christ. The monasteries which Columban established produced many saints for the Church. Many Columbans in Mindanao, Malate, Myanmar, and China have also suffered death and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Their lives were lived in and for love. Their lives were lived for Christ. And this is what our community life strives to accomplish - that we too are leading each other to Christ. Hopefully saints are now being born along Rosario Drive.
I have realized that the Columbans are not very good at promoting themselves. I have never seen an old t-shirt, advertising the Columbans.T-shirts with Columban designs are a latest phenomenon. And now we are into blogs and Facebook. I have the feeling that the Columbans are not good in promoting themselves because they are promoting Christ. Just as we are exiles for Christ, we are promoters of Christ by the witness of our lives.
I can name a good number of reasons why I feel like celebrating today. Of course – the very life of St. Columban is worth celebrating. And there can be some other reasons. How the Maynooth Mission to China has evolved or has transformed itself over the years could be one of the reasons.
Most of the early followers of St. Columban were men, monks. And the Society was founded as a clerical society. Yet it is fascinating journey on how the Society has embraced and responded to the call of the times. From a clerical society, the Columbans have also embraced and affirmed the role and mission of women in the Church through the Columban Sisters. And about 25 years ago, maybe very much ahead of its time, the Columbans, in the spirit of Vatican II, affirmed the gifts and the vocation of lay people and the role they play in the missionary work of the Church.
Aside from lay missionaries, we also work closely with lay people as co-workers, mission partners and our generous benefactors and friends. And what does this working together mean to us? This working together is a concrete manifestation of our desire and commitment to witness to a way of being church, of ordained, religious and lay, men and women, single, couples and families working together for the building of God’s kingdom. We are a community of faith, coming from different cultures and family backgrounds that try to bear witness to the values of the kingdom in a culture different from our own. This has not been easy. This requires a lot of commitment and hard work from all of us. On this feast of St. Columban, the effort, dedication and desire of each and every Columban to try to be faithful to the call and to the Gospel give me more than enough reason to celebrate today.
The seeds of faith that Columban has planted in Europe have been bearing fruit in places which even he himself has never imagined. He simply planted and planted. What an attitude, maybe he never worried if his labour would bear any fruit at all. Maybe the word success was never in Columban’s mind. He simply did what was asked of him. Maybe the migratory birds brought the seeds from Europe to Tonga, Korea, Balingasag, Midsalip, Peru, Pakistan and Fiji. Or maybe the winds must have been so strong that it swept the seeds off to far distant places. Columban’s labour bore fruit in these places, thousands of miles away from his monasteries. As we look around and come to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the peoples and cultures present in our community, this gives me another equally good reason to celebrate today.
During the last nine days we have followed St. Columban as a pilgrim for Christ on his missionary journey to different parts of Europe. We have come to know him and naturally, Christ. But through our praying together, sharing and our fellowship we have also come to know each other more deeply. And for me this is also worth celebrating. And celebrate indeed we must in love and for Christ.
Happy Feast Day!