Thursday 4 August 2016

The Monastic Teaching of Saint Molua

Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Molua (Lugid) in his Lives of the Irish Saints paints a picture of the type of teaching the saint imparted to those pursuing the monastic life under his care. He was credited with having written an austere monastic rule, but the text does not seem to have survived. In the first incident, Saint Molua deals with a novice lay brother who hasn't quite grasped the idea of living in community:

'A great number of monks flocked to Clonfert Molua, and placed themselves under the rule of its holy abbot, who received them most affectionately. Indeed, it was his habitual practice, to deal leniently with all his subjects; so that only by mild persuasions, and without asperity of speech or manner, did he seek their spiritual correction or improvement. An anecdote is related, whereby we may understand, he had an indirect and a pleasantly quiet way for administering reproof. A laic, who was probably with him as a novice, seems to have been so eccentric, that he did not wish any other person to live in the house with him. One day, while he was alone, Lugid paid him a visit, and found that he was sitting before the fire warming himself. Then said the laic to him: "Sit down and warm your feet." Lugid replied: " You give me good advice," and he sat down. However, the man went out, and on returning, he found Lugid walking about the fireplace and turning around, so as to obstruct the heat from reaching the owner. Then said the laic to him : "Why are you thus acting, or why do you walk before the fire?" Then Lugid replied in a vein of satiric humour : "I do so turn myself, that I may receive the whole benefit of the blaze, and that it alone may warm every part of my body." The reproof was felt, and then that man consented to have another share his place of dwelling.'

In the second incident, Saint Molua offers some thoughts on the subject of confession:

'Having approached a spot called Tuaim Domnaich, near which a cross was erected, a certain monk accompanying him felt great contrition, because he had not confessed the sins, committed on that day, to his director. He asked the permission of our saint, that he might be able to repair such a fault. "But, is it so great a sin," said he, "to avoid confession in this life? or is it not quite sufficient, to ask pardon of God for our sins? " Molua said: " If a man do not confess his sins, he cannot obtain pardon, unless the omnipotent God in his mercy shall grant it to the penitent, after inflicting a great punishment of penance on him here, and after a public accusation by the Devil, on the day of future judgment. For, as the pavement of a house is daily covered by the roof, so must the soul be covered by daily confession." The monk, hearing this from his abbot, promised to confess his venial faults, which he afterwards did with great exactness, while the saint and his brethren were greatly rejoiced, because this monk abandoned his former presumption'.

And in the third story, he teaches a former bard the value of humility, obedience, and perseverance:

'A bard named Conan had joined his religious community, but he was not used to manual labour. One day, Lugid said to him : "Let us go together, and do a little work." Taking with them two reaping-hooks, and going into a wood, they found there a great quantity of thistles. Then said Lugid: " Come, and let us cut down this brake of thistles together." Conan answered, "I alone can cut them off"; when Lugid pressing a fork against one of the thistles, the bard soon struck it down. Then the abbot told him to cease work for that day, much to the surprise of Conan, and both returned to the monastery. Going again the next day, they cut down only two thistles; on the third day, they cut down three; and on each succeeding day, they cut down one more in addition. It was probably to give a practical lesson in persevering industry to his monk, that the abbot so willed. In due course, a great clearance was effected, and afterwards the open was characterized as the Road of Conan. '

Towards the end of his account of Saint Molua's life, O'Hanlon gives a most beautiful description of the saint's final testament to his monastic family:

'Finding the day of his departure about to approach, our saint called his monks together, and in giving many other precepts for their guidance, he said to them: "Beloved brethren, till the land and labour well, that you may have a sufficiency for food, for drink, and for clothing; for where a competence shall be found among God's servants, there must be stability; where stability is found, there shall be religion, and the end of true religion is life everlasting. My dearly beloved children, let constancy be found among you, and proper silence; take care of the pilgrims; and on account of prayer, love to labour with your own hands. Receive strangers always for Christ's sake; spend the morning in prayer; read afterwards, and then toil until evening; while finding time also for God's work, and for other necessities." Thus he exhorted his religious, according to the spirit of his Rule, and with the tenderness of a father, bestowing his last best gifts on his beloved children.'

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