Sunday, 10 May 2015

Miracles and the Monastic Life of Saint Comgall

May 10 is the feast of Saint Comgall, founder of the monastery of Bangor. Canon O'Hanlon has helpfully recounted many of the miracles attributed to him recorded by the Bollandists. Some give an interesting glimpse into the monastic life and the virtues of humility, obedience and penance which Saint Comgall taught. Here is a selection, the headings are mine, the text O'Hanlons.

Saint Comgall Practices Humility

When Comgall had a great number of monks, subject to his rule, an Abbot, who was his senior, and under whose roof our saint had dwelt for some time, came to his monastery. When they sat down to table, and rejoiced in the society of each other, in order to test Comgall's humility, and to find if his former spirit of obedience yet remained, the senior began to chide him severely. Comgall then arose, and prostrating himself on the earth, he began to pour forth copious floods of tears. Being asked, why he wept, the holy man replied, "Because I am grieved, I have not had such an opportunity of practising humility, for many years past".

Saint Comgall Makes a Coffin and a Promise

One day, Comgall, with his own hands, was engaged in making a wooden coffin, in which the brethren were to be placed, when death approached. One of the monks, Enan, by name, said, " Father, you do a good work for the brethren, about to repose in this coffin, since it must aid them to obtain salvation; would that I were permitted to depart this life in it." Comgall replied, "Be it so, brother, according to thy wish; as, from this coffin thou shalt depart to Heaven." It so happened, that brother was sent to a place, far distant from Bangor monastery, and while there, he died. However, St. Comgall ordered his body to be conveyed to Bangor ; where, through the prayers of our holy Abbot, the monk was restored to life. The resuscitated brother frequently told his fellow-monks what he had seen and heard, after his first departure from life. " I was," said he, " brought towards Heaven, by two Angels, sent from God ; and, whilst on the way, behold other Angels came to meet us, saying, "Bear this soul to its body, for Comgall, God's servant, hath asked it. Therefore, bear it to Comgall, with whom the monk shall live, unto an old age. He lived, for many subsequent years ; and, at the close of life, his soul ascended to Heaven, while his body reposed in that coffin, made by our saint.

Comgall's Rule of Reproof

It was a custom, in the monastery of our saint, if any one among the brethren should chide another, that person, who had received such reproof—whether deserving it or not—was required to go on his knees. Wherefore, at one time, while Comgall visited an island, in the northern part of Ireland, some monks chanced to be sailing on the middle of a lake. A brother, who was steering their boat, reproved one of his companions. Not regarding the danger in which he was placed, as the boat was small, that brother is said to have leaped from it, that he might prostrate himself. But, at once he sunk under the water, where he remained buried beneath the wave, from the first, to the ninth, hour of the day. Full of sorrow for the accident, which had occurred, the reproving monk told St. Comgall about the matter. Without any show of inquietude Comgall said, " The Lord is able to preserve our brother alive, beneath the water ; return you, and seek him, where he has been submerged." The monks accordingly did so, when one of them, who was an excellent swimmer and diver, plunged into the water, and he found the young monk lying beneath, with his face towards the earth. The diver bore him to the surface, alive and well. The monk then said to his companions, " I suffered no more inconvenience under water, than if I had been on dry land." This miracle confirmed in that practice the brethren, who bore further reproaches with humility.

The Miracle of "The Obedient"

There was another young monk, in St. Comgall's monastery; he was so distinguished for humility, mildness, and obedience, that he did whatever was required, and avoided whatever had been prohibited. Commands were executed in so prompt a manner, by this monk, that his brethren gave him the title of "The obedient." One day, while Comgall was on a journey, accompanied by this young man, and with other companions ; all these came to a spot, where a great inundation had taken place. Having received a reproof from one of his brethren, that young monk immediately fell upon his face, near the sea-shore; and, as he remained among the last arrivals, his action was not observed by the company. The brother, who was much attached to the Abbot, bore his shoes ; and, when our saint came to a dry part of the shore, he asked for " The obedient." Not being seen among the other monks, his Abbot enquired, if any of the brethren had reproved him. One of them confessed that he had. Comgall ordered the monks to return, and to seek him. While doing so, the rising sea-tide had covered the whole shore, the brother yet remaining prostrate, although within a very short distance from the elevated banks. On raising that obedient religious, his brethren brought him to St. Comgall. Then, the whole company returned thanks to God.

Some Other Miraculous Testimonies to Obedience

Being in some necessity, the Abbot one day required a monk to cross over the strait of the sea, in a direct course. This brother, we are told, passed over with dry feet, and returned safely to the saint. At another time, he required one of the monks, to go into the workshop of a smith, who was absent, and to make a frame, on which fishes might be boiled. At the same time, Comgall blessed his hands. That brother, hitherto unskilled in the smith's art, made the article as required, together with many other useful things, on the same day. When, too, in a spirit of obedience, one of his monks bore a hot stone from the fire to St. Comgall, his hands were preserved from being burned, for which singular favour he returned thanks to God.

Saint Comgall Helps A Struggling Schoolboy

A certain boy, learning to write, made no progress in this art, for several days ; when, coming to St. Comgall, he received a blessing on his eyes and hands. This tended to perfect him in penmanship, so that in a short time, he excelled all others, and became a celebrated professor of writing himself.

Saint Comgall and the Thieves

Some thieves were in the habit of stealing vegetables and fruit, raised by the monks, who laboured with their hands, while praying with great fervour. The monks complained to their Abbot, that the brethren and their guests were thus deprived of the produce procured by their labours. On the following night, Comgall made a sign of the cross over his garden. At the same time, he said, "O Omnipotent God, who art able to do all things, deprive of their sight those thieves, who enter here, that they may wander about inside of this garden, until induced to confess their guilt." Accordingly, on that night, when those robbers entered the enclosure, they became blind; and, they wandered about the garden, in ignorance of a place, where they might find an exit. At last, moved to penitence for their crime, they called for help, and then brought their ill-acquired store to the monks. The robbers made a public reparation for their crimes. Afterwards, becoming true penitents, and assuming the monastic habit, they embraced St. Comgall's rule.

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