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On the Way: A Spiritual Journey with St Columbanus

On the Way- a spiritual journey with St Columbanus

From the Church of St Columbanus, Bangor Co Down.

Led by Rev Alistair Morrison

Preacher: Canon Simon Doogan

Almost 1500 years ago, the Irish monk, Columbanus left the monastery in Bangor and went to Europe as a missionary. Today's service reflects on his life and journeying and on his significance for today.

Deuteronomy 1. 26-33
Acts 18 18-28.

Release date:

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 9 Feb 2014 08:10

St Columbanus 09/02/14


Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

On the Way- a spiritual journey with St Columbanus

From the Church of St Columbanus, Bangor Co Down.

Led by Rev Alistair Morrison

Preacher: Canon Simon Doogan

Almost 1500 years ago, the Irish monk, Columbanus left the monastery in Bangor and went to Europe as a missionary. Today's service reflects on his life and journeying and on his significance for today.

Deuteronomy 1. 26-33
Acts 18 18-28.

On the Way- a spiritual journey with St Columbanus. From the Church of St Columbanus, Bangor. Led by Rev Alistair Morrison. Preacher: Canon Simon Doogan. Organist and Choirmaster: Ian Bell. Producer: Bert Tosh


Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

Opening Announcement: BBC Radio 4. Today’s Sunday Worship comes from St Columbanus’ Church, Ballyholme in County Down. It is led by the Rev Alistair Morrison and the preacher is the Rector, Canon Simon Doogan who introduces the service Canon Doogan: Later this year

many Christians all over Europe

will remember a saint

whose vigour and vitality

left a permanent mark everywhere he went.

It’s to the sixth century Irish monk Columbanus

to whom many French, German

and even Italian Christians trace back

their spiritual lineage.

Celebrations marking

the fourteen hundredth anniversary

of Columbanus’ death begin in November,

and it’s a milestone looming ever larger

for all of us here

in the ancient abbey town

of Bangor Co Down.

Thirty of Columbanus’

most formative monastic years

were spent at Bangor Abbey

in its day

a place of study, learning and prayer bearing many of the attributes

of a modern university.

But it’s to the Church of Ireland parish

of Ballyholme

that we welcome you this morning,

and to our Church

which bears Columbanus’ name.

Columbanus was a stranger to Bangor

when he first arrived around the year 5 5 8.

His monastic journey

began in Co Fermanagh,

but his home was much further south

in Ireland

and as we’re about to hear

the notion of home never really left him.

Setting the scene for us

are members of the traditional

and award winning

Irish music group Ards Comhaltas

with the Irish Air Far from home.


Far from home Ards Comhaltas Brian Balmer reads over the music

"Now, you see,

we must speak of the end of the way;

for we have already said

that human life is a roadway,

and by the likeness of a shadow

we have shown

how doubtful it is and uncertain,

and that it is not what it is;

in the same manner, we have said before how incalculable and how blind it is;

but concerning the end of our life,

by the help of the Holy Spirit,

our talk must be continued.

It is for travellers

to hasten to their homeland,

likewise their part

is anxiety upon the roadway,

and in their homeland peace.

Then let us, who are on the way,

hasten home;

for our whole life

is like the journey of a single day.’’


Jill Boal: Those words are the first of several extracts
this morning from Columbanus Sermon Eight.

They have the sound and feel

of a man nearer the end of his life

than the beginning,

and they draw on an image

running right through Christian Scripture,

an image used most forcefully

by Jesus Himself

as He prepared the disciples

to face His death:

I am the way, and the truth and the life

says the Lord

no one comes to the Father except through me – as we’re about to sing in Thou art the way to thee alone,

to the tune St James.

  Hymn: Thou art the Way: to thee alone (ST JAMES) Canon Doogan:

Compared to some of the other saints

of those early centuries

we don’t have lots of gaps to fill

with Columbanus,

certainly not

when it comes to his spiritual thinking

and his theological priorities.

Thirteen sermons

bear the authorship of Columbanus

alongside six letters,

two sets of monastic instructions,

a number of poems

and a penitential

now scattered

through various European libraries.

Not long after I arrived in Ballyholme

a bushel of these were presented to me

by a member of the parish,

not from some dusty library shelf

but downloaded from the internet!

You can find a link to them

on the Sunday Worship web page.

So far as the penitential goes

one recent commentator described it

as ‘not as grim as it sounds’,

but there is no denying

Columbanus had a keen sense

of his own unworthiness before God.

He wrote of ‘having gathered

the wretchedness of human life

from considerations of daily experience’.

A call to conversion of life

was always at the centre of his message,

and in that spirit we come to God now

in sorrow for our sins…

  Rev Alistair Morrison

Jesus said to the apostles:

Go and make disciples of all the nations.

Conscious of our failure

to obey his commands,

let us call to mind our sins.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;

happy are those who trust in Him.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The Lord ransoms the lives of his servants and none who trust in him will be destroyed.

Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

Come my children, listen to me:

I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins,

and bring us to everlasting life,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty and eternal God, by whose grace Your servant Columbanus

left home and family

to take the light of the gospel

to unknown lands,

grant that we, in the same spirit of love,

may give our lives

in selfless devotion to You,

so that through us

Your kingdom may come on earth

and Your will be done

to the glory of Christ our Saviour. Amen.


Choir: Psalm 101 vv1-10

I will sing of faithfulness and justice;

to you, O Lord, will I sing.

2 Let me be wise in the way that is perfect:

when will you come to me?

3 I will walk with purity of heart

within the walls of my house.

4 I will not set before my eyes

a counsel that is evil.

5 I abhor the deeds of unfaithfulness;

they shall not cling to me.

6 A crooked heart shall depart from me;

I will not know a wicked person.

7 One who slanders a neighbour in secret

I will quickly put to silence.

8 Haughty eyes and an arrogant heart

I will not endure.

9 My eyes are upon the faithful in the land,

that they may dwell with me.

10 One who walks in the way that is pure

shall be my servant.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen


Sandra Griffiths 2’]

The reading is from the Acts of the Apostles

chapter 18,

beginning at verse 18


After staying at Corinth

for a considerable time,

Paul said farewell to the believers

and sailed for Syria,

accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.

At Cenchreae he had his hair cut,

for he was under a vow.

When they reached Ephesus,

he left them there,

but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews.

When they asked him to stay longer,

he declined but on taking leave of them,

he said, "I will return to you, if God wills."

Then he set sail from Ephesus.

When he had landed at Caesarea

he went up to Jerusalem

and greeted the church,

and then went down to Antioch.

After spending some time there he departed and went form place to place

through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.


Now there came to Ephesus

a Jew named Apollos,

a native of Alexandria.

He was an eloquent man,

well-versed in the scriptures.

He had been instructed

in the Way of the Lord;

and he spoke with burning enthusiasm

and taught accurately

the things concerning Jesus,

though he knew only the baptism of John.

He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside

and explained the Way of God to him

more accurately.

And when he wished

to cross over to Achaia,

the believers encouraged him

and wrote to the disciples to welcome him.


This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.  

We sing a hymn celebrating the love of God, Love is his word,

to the tune Cresswell

  Hymn Love is his word, love is his way (CRESSWELL)   Canon Doogan- Sermon 8’]

The haircut mentioned for St Paul

in today’s verses

from the Acts of the Apostles

was no mere short, back and sides.

More likely

it was a traditional Jewish Nazarite vow

of the sort taken by someone

who wanted to thank God

for some specific and particular blessing.

Not to be outdone,

sitting in Ballyholme Parish Church

this morning

we have a window depicting St Columbanus

with an Irish monk’s tonsure.

It would surely have given St Paul’s haircut a run for its money and you can see it

on the Sunday Worship web page.

But the parallels

between our own patron saint and Paul

don’t end with a trip to the barber’s.

For a start, both had farewells to say.

Paul took his leave

of the believers in Corinth,

the Jews in Ephesus,

the Church in Jerusalem

and other Christian communities

to name but a few.

In the Irish monastic tradition

Columbanus undertook exile for life

and so his farewells

were known to be permanent.

We’ve already mentioned

three Irish departures for Columbanus

from Leinster, Cleenish and Bangor,

but having landed on the coast of Bergundy

Columbanus moved on from

each of the five communities he founded


from France to Germany to Northern Italy.

So both Paul and Columbanus

are well-described as travellers for God.

Both knew what it was to walk away

from the familiar and the comfortable.

That said, both journeyed with company.

Where St Paul

sets off with Priscilla and Aquila

Columbanus left Bangor

with the biblical number twelve,

including St Gall

who was to found

his own monastery in Switzerland.

Both were unafraid of argument.

St Paul’s cordial relations

with the Jews at Ephesus

gives the lie to the idea

that religious differences in antiquity

necessarily made for bad blood.

After his discussions

with them in the synagogue

they wanted Paul to stay longer,

and it was an invitation Paul left open,

saying he would return if God willed.

If Columbanus tried to follow

that example of spiritual diplomacy,

he did so with mixed success.

But he was never afraid to fight his corner whether in the sphere of

morality, theology or church order.

At a slightly deeper level though

perhaps we find another

more directly spiritual parallel.

On the face of it,

both Paul and Columbanus

were driven by a public call

to proclaim the truth of Christ,

and to strengthen and encourage those

who had discovered that truth already.

Yet both also seem driven

by a more private, internal call

to keep moving on

as if there were some personal destination

still to be disclosed to them.

It’s as though

the places and people they visit

only serve to remind them

that wherever they are headed in God,

they have some way still to go.

Certainly for Columbanus,

as you’re about to hear

in another extract from Sermon Eight,

the ties and loyalties of the here and now

were burdens from which he felt

genuinely liberated.

Brian Balmer

"Let us not love the roadway

rather than the homeland,

lest we lose our eternal home;

for we have such a home

that we ought to love it.

Therefore let this principle abide with us, that on the road

we so live as travellers, as pilgrims,

as guests of the world,

entangled by no lusts,

longing with no earthly desire…"

Canon Doogan

In his honour

David Lennon of Ards Comhaltas

sings his own composition:

The White Dove.


Song: David Lennon The White Dove vv1 and 2 Canon Doogan

Because of his poetry

and the cultured, elegant Latin

he used for all his writing,

Columbanus is often described

as the first Irishman of letters,

or as the subheading of one book calls him

‘the earliest voice of Christian Ireland’.

But it transpires

Columbanus was also the first person recorded as using the phrase ‘we Irish’

in reference to his fellow countrymen.

Doubtless he did so

in an entirely natural, instinctive way,

and doubtless it was neither an incendiary nor in any sense

a political thing for him to say.

But it does raise the question of attitude:

what did Columbanus make

of the new countries and peoples

his missionary experiences

introduced him to?

There have been lots of discussions recently

about what it means for us

to be citizens of Europe.

Geography, it’s been suggested,

must be one of the things

that shapes our psychology,

the implication being that we see ourselves

as independently-minded, island people.

Plainly history

has had quite a lot to do with it too,

not least of all twentieth century history

and two world wars.

But Columbanus takes us back to a time

when in terms of attitude,

perhaps it wasn’t geography or history

that played the primary role

so much as religion.

In a letter Columbanus wrote

to Pope Gregory the Great

around the year 600,

we find for the first time the expression "totius Europae" – of all Europe.

If that was an expression

Columbanus coined himself,

then he coined it first and foremost

in reference to the Church.

It’s been suggested, admittedly,

that the continental Church

struck the austere Columbanus

as soft, even decadent.

But the point is

to the travelling Irish monks

of fourteen hundred years ago

the cultural unity,

certainly of western Europe,

appeared obvious.

Arguably, when belief and spirituality

were people’s most defining characteristics

common ground could be found.

You have to wonder

could the same have been true

five hundred years before Columbanus

when the eloquent Alexandrian Jew Apollos

arrived at Ephesus?

Because besides St Paul,

this morning’s snapshot from Acts

presents another missionary figure

for us to consider.

Apollos had been instructed in

‘The Way of the Lord’.

‘The Way’ is one of the commonest

names or titles for Christianity in Acts,

and as we’ve heard

Columbanus referred to ‘The Way’

several times in Sermon Eight alone.

‘The Way’ has the advantage

of conveying very directly

that Christianity not only means

believing certain things

but putting them into practice.


Apollos seemed clear

that the essential Christian task

was to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Up to that point

he knew only the baptism of John

but what Acts seems to imply

is that thanks to the Christians in Ephesus,

chiefly Priscilla and Aquila,

Apollos moves from belief into practice.

If before

Christ was a figure of history,

now He is a living presence.

Columbanus describes

much the same spiritual shift

in Sermon Eight,

though he recognises that in this life

that’s a shift none of us

will ever make completely.

Brian Balmer

"Hence, spurning all wickedness,

and laying aside all sloth,

let us strive to please

Him who is everywhere present,

that with a good conscience

we may happily pass over

from the roadway of this age

to the blessed and eternal homeland

of our eternal Father,

from present things to things absent,

from mournful things to things of joy,

from transitory things to things eternal,

from earthly things to heavenly,

from the sphere of death

to that of the living…"

Canon Doogan

Over an age

when so many of us are driven

by the material comforts

of the here and now,

the Columbanus

we commemorate later this year

casts his shadow:

a man who lived and breathed sacrifice,

and who felt moved on

continually and irresistibly

by the draw of heaven –

the true spiritual home of every Christian.

In case you were wondering

Columbanus’ Latin name means dove,

the -an at the end

apparently makes him

the little dove or the lesser dove

to distinguish him from his predecessor Columba of Iona.

The idea

that your name shapes your life or career

is known as nominative determinism.

As one writer has said,

‘Columbanus enjoyed his name,

and surely smiled at the fact

that never was any man less like a dove.’

Song: David Lennon The White Dove v 3 Intercessions: Jill Boal

Father we hold before you

the nations and peoples of the world:

in their prosperity and their adversity,

in their plenty and their want,

in their order and their chaos,

in their harmony and their discord

in their homelessness and displacement.

Lord move the hearts of the powerful

to hear the cries of those calling out

from hunger or from thirst,

from injustice or from pain.

May concern replace corruption,

may freedom replace fear…

Saviour, we hear your call

Help us to follow. Sandra Griffiths

Father we hold before you

the Church of Christ:

in its worship and its witness,

its building and its planting,

its growing and its giving,

its service and its sacrifice.

Lord stir the hearts of believers everywhere

that we might take up the missionary mantle

to proclaim Christ’s truth,

to demonstrate Christ’s love,

to share Christ’s presence

and to bring Christ’s peace

wherever we go.

Saviour, we hear your call

Help us to follow. Rev Alistair Morrison

Father we hold before you

those who feel burdened or broken:

by their effort to make enough to get by;

by their struggle to provide for their families;

by their desperation to be free

of illness, depression or anxiety;

by their longing to leave behind

the loneliness and grief

of their loss, separation or bereavement.

Lord touch their hearts – and touch ours

that in gentleness and compassion

we might show them

the light of hope

the encouragement of faith,

and the promise of rest everlasting in you.

Saviour, we hear your call

Help us to follow. Holy Spirit of Love In us, around us, above, Holy Spirit, we pray Send sweet Jesus this day! Holy Spirit to win Body and soul within, O Holy Spirit come! Hallow our heart, thy home. Amen Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen  

To the Irish traditional melody Slane

we sing our praise

to the High King of heaven:

Be thou my vision.

Hymn Be Thou my vision (SLANE)  


God who in days of old gave to this land

the benediction of his holy Church,

fill you with his grace

to walk faithfully in the steps of the saints

and to bring forth fruit to his glory:

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

be with you and remain with you always. Amen


Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world

and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’   Ards Comhaltas The Boat Song (Words: St Columbanus; Music: David Lennox)






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