Dom Columba Marmion (1858-1923)
Postulation de la Cause du Bienheureux Columba Marmion, 3e Abbé de l'Abbaye de Maredsous
Dom Columba Marmion
La Béatification le 3 septembre 2000
Discours et interventions
Homily of His Grace Desmond
Connell, Archbishop of Dublin
S. Agatha Dei Gothi
4 September 2000
Joseph Marmion, a student of the Irish College, was ordained priest for the diocese of Dublin on the 16th June 1881. It was the solemnity of Corpus Christi and the ordination took place in this Church.
He was born in Dublin's North City Centre, baptized in St. Paul's Arran
Quay, educated at Belvedere College and admitted to Clonliffe to begin his
preparation for the priesthood. In these four ways I myself had the
privilege of following in his footsteps at a distance of some seventy years.
I remember hearing from a Jesuit who met him that he retained his Dublin
accent and joviality to the end. No doubt his Dublin joviality made demands
on his Belgian monastic brethren, though we may be sure that they offered it
He grew up in a numerous and united family, his father with Irish and his mother with French antecedents. The fervent religious faith and diverse ancestry of the family opened up directions for his life's journey.
After ordination he was appointed curate in Dundrum. Care of parishioners and chaplaincy service to the newly-established Carmelite Convent in Kilmacud, to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Mount Anville and to Dundrum Mental Hospital lent his first year of priesthood a rich variety of pastoral experience. He was then appointed to teach philosophy and theology at Clonliffe and to serve the Redemptoristine Contemplative Sisters as chaplain. In retrospect, we can see in his theological formation at Propaganda, especially under the influence of his Professor of Dogma, Satolli, and in his four years of teaching at Clonliffe anticipations of a spiritual master whose teaching is now celebrated for its theological depth. Such was the master welcomed and acknowledged in later years by the faculty of Louvain University and chosen by Cardinal Mercier as his spiritual director. In a sense it could be said that his mission in Dublin continued throughout his life. Marmion, of course, is quintessentially Benedictine and his work breathes the peace inscribed in the Benedictine motto. But he is a Benedictine whose pastoral impetus gives to his writings an influence beyond cloister and religious life; and to this his priestly mission in Dublin happily contributed.
Cardinal Cullen had no sympathy with his monastic aspirations, but Cardinal McCabe gave him encouragement. To their successor, Archbishop Walsh, he applied in 1885 for permission to enter the Abbey of Maredsous. He has been to Maredsous in the company of a friend he had met in Rome. Archbishop Walsh asked him to wait for a year, and then granted the permission for what looked like a very uncertain adventure. Not many expected it to succeed. Priests do, indeed, ask strange things of their Bishop and it is to Walsh's credit that he said yes.
Why did Marmion become a monk ? He tells us himself : "I became a monk because God have revealed to me the beauty and greatness of obedience". Not many, perhaps even amongst religious, would say that today : all the more reason for taking it to heart. But althought he wanted to sacrifice his will to the will of Christ as expressed by Christ's representative, he was not to continue exempt from the burdens of responsibility for others and material preoccupations, which so mark the lot of the diocesan priest. If the years of monastic formation freed him from them for a time they came back to pursue him with especially heavy responsibility.
The monastic name that he was given, Columba, no doubt in part by his own choice, recalled the life of exile for Christ so distinctive of the two great Irish Saints who had borne it before him. Both ot those Saints had also been men of exceptionally strong will power, and of independence of mind. Columba Marmion's spiritual teaching shows these qualities placed at the service of the Gospel of Christ.
The years of novitiate at Maredsous gave him plenty of opportunity for that submission of will and self-denial he had been anxious to put into practice. If he was later to exercise authority, he had certainly learned to obey during his years of preparation. His knowledge of the Rule of St. Benedict, of Fathers of the Church and of the Church's spiritual tradition was deepened in this time through the study that always remained part of his life.
In 1899 he was appointed Prior of the new foundation of Mont César in Louvain. This brought him back to duties he had known in Dublin - teaching theology to young monks and ministering to the Contemplative Sisters of a Carmelite Monastery. Constant contact with the University and its tradition widened his horizons in spiritual and theological thought. In 1909 he was elected Abbot of Maredsous.
The last fourteen years of his life made demands as much in the nature of the active as of the contemplative life. His term of office as Abbot and father of his monastic community was deeply affected by the German invasion and occupation of Belgium during the First World War. He escaped to England and suffered much in his attempts to provide for his community. He managed to return to his Abbey in 1916, and after the war was over he gathered his monks around him once more. Until his death in 1923 he laboured to build up the Benedictine Pax in the calming of troubled spirits and the reconciling of embittered minds long after the guns were silent but mourning for the dead remained. I have said nothing of his vast apostolic activity before, during and after the war in the giving of retreats to a wide variety of religious communities. His great wish for a Benedictine foundation in Ireland was eventually fulfilled with the founding of Glenstal Abbey.
Abbot Marmion is renowned not just for great personal holiness but on account of his writings, which apart from any personal notes and letters, are the products of his final years. It was then that his thoughts were written down.
But they are the harvest of many years of prayer and study. In every line they show his familiarity with Scripture, and in this respect he is the match of any of the Fathers of the early Church. His text was the Latin Vulgate; quoted with a familiarity and readiness that manifested the source of all his thinking. His familiarity with St. Paul has led to the assertion that he knew all the Pauline writings by heart, which one could well believe. Together with this there is the evidence of wide reading in the Fathers of the Church, with St. Thomas Aquinas as a mediator here, and the trace of French thinking on the spiritual life, but above all the rule of St. Benedict and the Benedictine tradition.
An early and extremely important influence was certainly the spiritual direction of the Vincentian, Father Gowan, in Clonliffe days. Father Gowan's influence on the Dublin prieshood in Marmion's day, and on many Dublin religious houses then and afterwards, is simply incalculable. From every comment ever made about him it is obvious that his influence was profound. From Gowan's personal direction, and his guidance in reading, Marmion would first have met a French tradition. Later he absorbed the thinking of what is called the French School: the line of Bérulle, Condren, Olier. The chosen themes, and even the order in which they appear in his work, are unmistakable : the person of Chirst, the Incarnate Word, present through the mysteries of his life on earth in the life of the Church and through the mediation of the Church in the lives of the faithful.
Reconciliation with God in Christ is much more than the forgiveness of our sins : it accomplishes God's plan to adopt us as his children and it calls us to the dignity of a new way of life through sharing by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ's own very being with his Father. Christ is alive and present in the Church as the source of her life and his unseen presence is rendered visible in a sacramental way through the gift of the ministry of ordained priests. It would be interesting to trace Marmion's influence on the liturgical renewal, which emphasizes the presence of the mysteries of Christ's life on earth in the liturgical hearing of the Word of God and the celebration of the sacraments. He would have been at home with the theme of our Jubilee celebration: "Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever" (Heb. 11:8).
From the central reality of Christ in the spiritual life comes meditation on the mysteries of Christ, the examination of the mysteries and states of Christ during his earthly life, and application of the graces and inspirations coming from them to the life of the whole Church, Christ's mystical body, remembered throughout the year in the liturgy. Here the Abbot's Benedictine's inheritance and the experience of monastic life were drawn on in all its riches. Here the spiritual strength of monastic life became the background to Marmion's repeated returns to the theme of priesthood and its ministry. Christ's priesthood was the means of his sharing his mysteries with others : the priesthood of his ordained ministers the means of transmitting these graces through human hands to all the Church.
Of Marmion it can be said that everything, in accordance with God's plan
of salvation, is centred in the person of Christ. Père Philipon, O.P. ,
'His vigorous Christo-centrism freed him from all trace of narrow individualism and this is the explanation of a final characteristic of his work; its catholicity. The spirituality of Dom Marmion is developed in the atmosphere of the Church. In it the soul is never regarded as an individual alone with itself, concerned only with its own sanctification. It lives in communion with the whole mystical body without any exclusiveness, excepting no one, in the purest tradition of the Gospel, and of St. Paul, considering nothing as foreign to it which regards Christ, the glory of the Father, or the attainment of salvation by all. Its horizons are immense, corresponding, so to speak, with the viewpoint of Christ Himself. This explains why all schools of spiritualily feel at home with the teaching of Dom Marmion. Even when he is speaking to monks and priests, the Abbot of Maredsous is understood and appreciated by simple Christians. The living presence of Christ in every page of his writings has effected this miracle of Catholicity. The works of Dom Marmion may be reckoned henceforth among the spiritual classics.' (The Spiritual Doctrine of Dom Marmion, p. 20-21).
Joseph Columba Marmion was ordained a priest of Dublin diocese. His Benedictine vocation enriched his spiritual understanding and developed the exercise of his priestly ministry beyond all measure, leading to that great holiness we celebrate today. All through his live, the pre-occupations of his priesthood followed him. Not alone the teaching ministry he first exercised in Clonliffe, but the material pre-occupations and responsibility for others so characteristic of the duties of countless diocesan priests, together with the ceaseless demands of preaching, remained with him always. His many retreats to seminaries, to diocesan priests in different places, and to religious communities, and the courage needed so urgently in war time to bring the younger part of his community to safety and to seek provision for their needs, meant that he never escaped the demands he would have faced has he remained in parish ministry. Through his faithful life and teaching, shared through his writings with many generations of diocesan priests, he made return beyond all calculation to those whose lot he undertook to share at the beginning.