Dear friends, biographers might recount stories that sound more legendary than factual, but the life of your patron, St Columba, was both daring and heroic. One account describes him meeting a sea creature in the River Ness, the first recorded mention of the Loch Ness Monster. Columba is said to have saved a swimmer from the beast’s jaws by a rebuke and the Sign of the Cross.
Well, whatever the facts of that event, there is a more fundamental truth about St Columba that is undeniable. He was so attracted to Christ, and so captivated by Christ, that it transformed his life. Christ called him as a disciple. Christ inspired him as a missionary. Christ made him an evangelist. So, what does it mean for us, what does it mean for you as Knights of St Columba today, to be attracted to Christ, to be captivated by Christ, and to be sent out as missionaries of Christ?
To begin an answer, we turn to the encounter we heard in the Gospel. It’s a powerful exchange between the Son of God a rich young man who asks Him a question.
Something drew this man towards the Lord Jesus. Either out of respect, or a theatrical show, the man kneels before the Lord. He is attracted to Jesus. He’s intrigued by Him. This man is searching, just like so many of our contemporaries are searching. The man came with questions, just like so many people today have questions. A recent report showed that, during the pandemic, Google has reported a fifty percent increase in online searches for information about ‘prayer.’ People are seeking deeper answers to the questions raised by anxiety and hopelessness.
The great G K Chesterton said famously ‘when someone chooses not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.’ The search for meaning and purpose comes from deep within. People want answers to life’s questions. With the man in the Gospel we, and so many others, ask: What must I do to inherit eternal life? To put is another way, isn’t there, surely, more to life than this?
The Lord Jesus’ reply reminds the man of God’s goodness, and that living a good and holy life means keeping the commandments God gave us. How important your mission is, as Knights of St Columba, to witness to the commandments; to the answers that come from Christ through His Church; to the answers that flow from the truth of Catholic teaching and the beauty of Catholic faith. With respect and kindness, we uphold what the Catechism calls the ‘organic unity’ of the commandments. What does this mean? The Catechism explains: ‘One cannot honour another person without blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all [people], his creatures. The [commandments] bring [our] religious and social life into unity.’ (CCC 2069)
For the rich young man, living the commandments seems to pose no problems which makes me want to say ‘lucky him!’ – ‘I’ve kept all the commandments,’ he says, ‘ever since I was a child.’ It’s an audacious claim. If it’s true, the man’s a saint, although one tinged with pride. He certainly lacks humility. Perhaps he was being flippant. Maybe it was a test. Whatever his motive, as we’ll see, he’s doesn’t quite know himself as well as the thinks.
From the questions and answers, the Lord Jesus makes the most beautiful response. He ‘looked steadily at the young man and loved him.’ This is the pivotal moment of this divine dialogue. Other translations say: ‘Jesus looked closely at the man and loved him;’ or ‘Jesus felt genuine love for this man;’ or ‘Jesus looked him hard in the eye and loved him.’
In whatever way the Lord Jesus gazed at this man, it was with intense love. And this lingering, loving look towards a person searching for truth, a person searching for faith, is so instructive for us. When we evangelise, we must have the same loving desire as the Lord Jesus. No matter what the question. No matter what the challenge. No matter what the obstacle. We must look at others, especially if they’re testing us, with the love of Christ, the same look of love with which the Lord gazes at you and me.
The great evangelist St Francis de Sales said ‘A spoon full of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.’ When we speak and give witness to the truth of our faith, if we don’t looking steadily with love, if we don’t speak steadily with love, then our message will be sour and unattractive.
The Lord Jesus looked into the rich young man’s eyes, and down into his heart. And loving him, and knowing him, better than he could know himself, said: ‘There is one thing you lack.’ With sweet love, here resounds the call to conversion, the summons to renew our way of thinking, the invitation to walk a different path. If we want to follow Christ, we need to change. St John Henry Newman put this succinctly: ‘To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’
Christ looks lovingly at us. Christ sees into our hearts. What does He find there? What is lacking within us? What prevents us following Him more completely, more generously, and with greater freedom? For the rich young man, the obstacle was wealth. He couldn’t swap the comfort of riches for security in Christ.
This raises a question for every disciple: What does the Lord Jesus ask me to let go of so I can more freely follow Him? It’s is a question for each of us, for you and for me. It’s a question for the Church and, dare I say, for the Knights. How do we let go of what holds us back so that, in Christ, we can embrace what calls us forward? And if we’re tempted to think, ‘but it’s not possible,’ we need to trust the words of our Saviour: ‘everything is possible for God.’
Dear Knights, dear brothers and sisters, the Church’s mission in our time and place demands that we reach out to those who are searching. Some people are searching outside of the Church. Others are searching within the Church. What contribution can we make to help people find the person, the wisdom, and the love of Christ? How can we hold together religious and social life in unity? How do we meet others with the loving gaze of Christ and, with the sweetness of His Gospel, help them to follow Him, perhaps for the first time or in a new way. How do we help lift the burdens that weigh people down so they can look up to Christ? How can we help remove the barriers to faith so that, in the words of St John Paul II, discipleship is not ‘an outward imitation’ but something that touches the very depths of our being? (cf VS 21)
We share the Church’s mission to announce the Gospel, to attract people to the Catholic faith, and to put this faith to practice, not least in caring for those on the margins. This sits at the heart of your commitment as Knights of St Columba. And I want to thank you, sincerely and genuinely, in the name of the Church, for everything you do across our parishes, communities and dioceses, out of love for Christ and in service of His people.
St Paul said he became a servant of the Church when God made him responsible for delivering God’s message. You, my brothers, are servants of the Church whom God has made responsible for delivering His message. Be encouraged! Like your patron, St Columba, be daring and heroic. Look outwards with love as you proclaim with enthusiasm Christ among us, the hope of glory.