June 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


‘Never forget, every saint has a past… and every sinner has a future’

Homily of Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini on Year of Faith pilgrimage to Iona, Monday June 10, to mark 1450th anniversary of St Columba's arrival on Iona

Dear Bishop Toal, My brother (bishops and) priests, Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I am very pleased to be with you today as we celebrate the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba. on Iona in the year of Our Lord 563. As the representative of Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, it is always good, simply to be with you to share times of prayer and thanksgiving. It is also, for me, a special joy to have the privilege and the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass here on the island of Iona, this beautiful place where St Columba lived and worked and, most importantly, prayed.

I am delighted to be here in Scotland once again and, I cannot but think that it is providential that this significant anniversary occurs during the Year of Faith which was calied by our Holy Father-Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, and now continues under our much loved Pope Francis. Clearly, the world in which St Columba lived was rather different to our own times, nevertheless, to quote from the second reading, with him we are united in: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God who is Father overall through all and within all.”

Columba, named after a dove, also known as Columcillt—Dove of the Church—was not in any sense a dove-like or retiring character, and there remains some uncertainty as to what actually brought him and his little band of brothers to Iona. As so often with us, there seems to be mixed motives at work. Some say that he came here to live the ‘blue martyrdom’ as voluntary exile for Christ was often known. Others think that he came to aid his compatriots in their struggles for survival or even, possibly, as a punishment for having created a disagreement between two of the Irish monasteries over an illuminated psalter wich he had copied and then held on to.

Whatever the reason for his arrival, for the most part he remained in Scotland and. from his main biographer, Adomnan, writing a century or so after Columba’s death, we are presented with the picture of a tall and commanding figure who was fiercely committed to God’s cause and combined the skills of a scholar, poet, ruler and man of commanding presence with great ability and, at times, even harshness. It seems that, to quote from the first reading: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to..” Columba and that he came to ‘bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts thal are broken.”

Perhaps too, the very geography of the island of Iona worked its magic on his character and indeed, on his sanctity too. For life here would have been precarious and hard and, unlike in our day, it would not have been be too easy to get comfortable or self-satisfied. Columba and his brethren, surrounded by the natural beauty and the stillness of this place would have, I like to think, found it easy to be aware, not only of God’s all embracing presence, but also very conscious of just how dependent they were on him for his two greatest gifts; the gifts of life and love. Our pilgrimage here today may well help cause us to re-evaluate so many of the props; material and otherwise, which we rely on and take for granted but which may,in reality, help us only to keep God at a distance.

In the Mom Proprio Porta Fidei, by which he announced the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Today, as in the past, He sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelisation in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the Faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts and minds in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.” (Porta Fidei 7)

St Columba faced many challenges in living the Faith and bringing it to others and, recently in Scotland we have faced challenges too, which may well have saddened us and made us all reflect on how we can bring the Gospel and the person of Christ to all those persons we encounter and to a society which is searching, often unawares, for God. It is possible, even a temptation, to talk vague and general terms about the need for ‘reform’ in the Church while somehow seeming to forget that ‘reform’ always has to begin with ME.

in the second reading, St Paul has a message for us too. He says: “Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the tinMi of the Spirit by the peace that hinds you together.” In recent days ther may well have been justified feelings, not just of anger but judgement too, and although it might seem to be from an odd source, I should like to quote a word or two which I believe appropriate, taken from Oscar Wilde who said: “Never forget, every saint has a past… and every sinner has a future!”

Thinkingof St Columba’s mixed motives for coining to Iona, I’m reminded of the words of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, when he celebrated Mass in the Parish of St Anna on the Sunday after his election. He said: “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think and I say it with humility—that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. It was he himself who said: ‘I did not come for the righteous.” The righteous justify themselves… Let us go back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace not to tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving.” Then we can go out and, as his chosen friends, “Bear fruit, fruit that will last!”

So let us invoke the intercession of Our Blessed Lady and St Columba in this very special place and then reflect on and explore anew our po faith, praying also for all the peoples of this country and those ersons wh we encounter each day, with whom we are called to share that Faith. I thank you for your attention and let us continue to pray for one another.


Pic: Archbishop Mennini and Bishop Joseph Toal of Argyll and the Isles celebrate Mass on Iona on June 10


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