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Hotheaded people can become strong-hearted saints, for the same passions that drive our tempers can be harnessed by the Spirit for good. We learn this from Columba, born in Ulster, Ireland, on December 7, 521. His grandfather had been baptized by St. Patrick himself, and Columba’s parents were believers of royal stock. Though he had a yearning for learning and for the Lord, Columba was strong-willed and combative. He possessed a powerful presence with strong features and an authoritative voice; but his fiery temper and iron will lingered, even after becoming a home missionary to his fellow Irish. One day Columba copied the contents of a book without permission, and when the owner requested the copy Columba refused. The argument took on a life of its own, involving more and more people. Eventually a war erupted in which 3,000 men lost their lives.
Full of remorse, Columba committed himself to win as many to Christ as had died in the war. Thus he left Ireland at age 42 to become a missionary to Scotland. With 12 companions, he established himself on Iona, a bleak, foggy island just off the Scottish coast, three miles long and a mile and a half wide. He built a crude monastery which soon became a training center for missionaries, one of the most venerable and interesting spots in the history of Christian missions. It was a lighthouse against heathenism.
From Iona Columba made missionary forays into Scotland, converting large numbers. An entire tribe of pagans, the Picts, were won to the faith. He confronted the druids, contesting with them over their alleged magical arts and demonic powers. Legend suggests he performed miracles to counter theirs, convincing the populace of the gospel’s superior power. He spent the rest of his life as the apostle to Scotland and as a trainer of missionaries.
On June 8, 597, Columba, 75 years old, spent the day transcribing the Psalms, then joined his brothers for midnight devotions. He collapsed at the altar and died peacefully during the wee hours of June 9, 597, his face bearing an expression of seeing holy angels coming to meet him.
People with bad tempers are always in trouble, And they need help over and over again. Pay attention to advice and accept correction, So you can live sensibly. We may make a lot of plans, But the Lord will do what he has decided. What matters most is loyalty. (Proverbs 19:19-22a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 9.