Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Fulfilling humility: Readings for Wednesday, June 12th

Feast: June 12

Feast Day:June 12
Born:1419, Sahagún, Province of Leon, Kingdom of Castile, Spain
Died:June 11, 1479, Salamanca, Province of Salamanca, Kingdom of Castile, Spain
Canonized:October 16, 1690, Rome by Pope Alexander VIII
Patron of:Salamanca, Spain, infertility
 b. 1419, at Sahagún (or San Fagondez) in the Kingdom of Leon, in Spain; d. 11 June, 1479, at Salamanca;  preacher, Augustinian friar, visionary, and protector of the faith. Saint John is remembered for his charity, social justice, and ceaseless preaching against immorality and vice—a mission which eventually cost him his life.   

During his formative years, he was  introduced to Alfonso de Cartagena, Bishop of Burgos (1435-1456) who took a fancy to the bright, high-spirited boy, had him educated at his own residence.  He ordained John as  priest in 1445, and made him canon at the cathedral.  He was entitled to revenues from several organizations, given his ecclesiastical appointments, but  John gave all of them away to the poor, preferring to live in poverty (sound a bit like someone we know!!?.)

While continuing his ministry as a priest, also ministered to the poor frequently. He was the perfect candidatge for this task, as he himself lived an austere life of poverty, self-sacrifice, and prayer. He eventually saw the need of deepening his education to help souls even more efficiently, so he  earned  his degree in divinity from Salamanca,the same University that  St Ignatius of Loyola would attend almost  a century later. During this time he exercised the sacred ministry at the chapel of the College of St. Bartholomew (parish of St. Sebastian), and held the position for nine years. He was then obliged to undergo an operation for stone, and during his illness vowed that if his life were spared, he would become a religious (as opposed to being a diocesan priest.) On his recovery in 1463, he applied for admission to the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine, at the church of St. Peter, at Salamanca, and on 28 Aug., 1464, he made his profession.

He made such progress in religious perfection that he was soon appointed master of novices, and in 1471 prior of the community. He was gifted with special powers to penetrate the secrets of conscience, so that it was not easy to deceive him, and sinners were almost forced to make good confessions;  In his sermons he, like another St. John (the Baptist),  he fearlessly preached the word of God and scourged the crimes and vices of the day,not just the sinfulness in people's behavior, but also the injustice done  against the rights and dignity of the workers. Such sermons  easily offended the rich and noble that attended his parish. 

One of the offended nobility was the Duke of Alba, who complained of John's stern denunciation of the sins of nobility and commoners alike form the pulpit. To this attack, John replied"It is becoming of Your Grace to know that a preacher must be prepared in his soul to speak the truth, both in denouncing and correcting shortcomings and in praising virtue, to such a point that he is willing in that cause even to face death."  In response, the Duke hired assassins, but these, awed by the serenity and angelic sweetness of his countenance, lost courage. His scathing words on impurity produced salutary effects in a certain nobleman who had been living in open concubinage, but the woman swore vengeance, and it was popularly believed that she caused the saint's death by poison. His relics are found in Spain, Belgium, and Peru. 

(Taken from Catholic Encyclopedia and the website a year of prayer)

One of the most common image of priests in the  Catholic Church seems to be more of a residue from a different time, an image represented by our Saint today: An old Priest, railing at his Parishioners because of their sinfulness, threatening them with the fires of hell if they don't 'fly straight'. This image is one of the reasons why there are so few people in the pews in our Churches today. Nobody likes being told how bad they are, or to be threatened with hell just because they like gay people or have contemplated an abortion or any other 'immoral' act.  The thing is, as much as I could not stand having a priest like that in my own parish, I feel that there's something special about today's Saint that almost justifies this behavior.
  The way I see it, he's not just shaking his angry finger at sinners...he genuinely wants to see a more holy people in his parish.. He's tired of the corruption, the sinfulness that pervades in his world, and he feels he can do something about it. What sets THIS priest apart from many others, is that he's not afraid to condemn the rich.  In fact, he probably sees them as being the most corrupt of the lot, and he does not give up on his mission to 'reform' them. One thing I did not add in the bio about St John, is that he seemed to have an ability to read souls.  One look at a person, and he could see, or understand something about the depth of their being that even the person standing in front of him couldn't fathom about themselves. Combine that with the tremendous humility and simplicity, his closeness to the poor and his concern for Justice, and we have one of the most exceptional Saints in our calendar -who is not even remembered by the main liturgical calendar anymore!!-.


In today's readings, we have both a strong message, and a minor tension.
The message continues the theme that began with our reflection of the live of St John: Radical humility before the Lord.  Not a popular subject...and again, I feel that this is an idea that may make the Church more unpopular among people. Nobody wants a priest telling them about their sins, and nobody wants to be humble..never mind being radically humble.(FYI, humble does not mean self hating. It simply means, recognize your smallness before the greatness of God.) But the Ideal that St John proposed with his life is echoed not just in our readings today, but in one of the best movies, and definitely the most Catholic movie of  last year, 'Les Miserables'.  The character of the Bishop living in the countryside in deep poverty, giving everything he has to share to Jean Valjean, is an inspiration to many in the clergy today, but it was intended by Victor Hugo as a criticism of the French  Clergy of the 19th century. He felt that Church men were too attached to their riches and luxuries, too corrupt. So he depicted this model of profound humility and service, this man who dedicated his life -as St John did- to living simply, but also to loving deeply anyone who came into his life. It was his way of saying to the Church 'you speak of poverty, but can you live it?' I believe we're lucky in the 21st century to have a Pope who has dedicated his papacy to answering that very same question with a very loud 'Yes!!!', and is eager to help the universal Church experience that simplicity as well.

 But even if we did attain that model of humility, whatever 'merit' we think we have by attaining this, is not really ours at all. The Merit is God's, and the Holy Spirit's. As Paul says in today's first reading,  our competence, (our skills, talent, gifts) are not from ourselves, but from God.
 Anton the Atheist: " Whoa whoa whoa dude...that's nonsense!! (not the word my 2nd imaginary friend  used, but I'm keeping this blog clean!) If you, or any priests or religious are good at what you do , it's because of your formation. It's all your effort that made you  a good teacher or academic or spiritual guru, it has nothing to do with...

 Dear has EVERYTHING to do with God. Yes, we put the work into our formation and learn the skills we need to learn, but it's how we apply that knowledge into our lives that makes us distinct from how an physicists apply their  knowledge, or how an engineer or lawyer or doctor does his or hers.The knowledge we develop becomes a starting point for prayer. The work we do is always -or at least it should be !- rooted in prayer, in a dialog with God. This knowledge that we supposedly 'own', we then share with God, and deepen it through reflection and meditations..and what comes out of these conversations is even more knowledge..not through our own efforts, but by the grace of God does all this happen. It is a collaboration in the end. Yes, we still have to work in our relationship with God. But the harder we work, the more we receive from God, the more we realize how we don't own knowledge or skills or talents, but are given them by God to share with others. And that is incredibly humbling. People, in my life, will tell me how wise I am, how helpful I've been, how much I've guided them...and everytime, I will have to secretly offer it up: 'Praise be to you O Lord, that I've been able to help this person through your intercession and grace'.

 Paul in all his wisdom reminds us of this,  but he also complicates things with his ideas about the contrast between the Old and the New covenant.  We learned this year in our New Testament  class that Paul -as well as Matthew and Luke-  would struggle a lot with the Jewish community in his work, and this was reflected in his writings. Although a Jew himself originally, his hostility towards his people's response to the Gospel of the Kingdom seems to have been so strong that he would have begun discrediting the Old Covenant as something that has faded- or will fade-. I'm not going to even attempt at interpreting the full passage because I don't have the theological formation for that,but whatever interpretation we give, my concern is how other people in the Catholic world would read it. I'm guessing, it wouldn't be a very positive read. Some may even use passages like these to discredit Judaism. If this is how they read it, thankfully, the Gospel passages comes along to create a nice healthy tension in the reader's mind.

 Jesus, we're reminded, did not come along to discredit or to abolish the old Law..but to fulfill it.  To live it out more fully than anyone ever had before, but not to seek praises for it. To simply set out on the task the Father had set for him in perfect humility...a task way bigger than he himself was...a task that would change the world for ever.
 But how do we respond to such a tremendous act of love? I think the Psalms give us good cues...Extol God. Always. Be humble in your worship...worship at his footstool.  Call out to Him in your time of need...share with Him in your time of Joy. Let God be part of every aspect of your life....and see what happens.

2 Corinthians 3: 4 - 11

4Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God,
6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses' face because of its brightness, fading as this was,
8will not the ministry of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?
9For if there was splendor in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor.
10Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it.
11For if what faded away came with splendor, what is permanent must have much more splendor.
Psalms 99: 5 - 9

5Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
6Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
7He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies, and the statutes that he gave them.
8O LORD our God, thou didst answer them; thou wast a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!

Gospel, Matthew 5:17-19

17 'Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.
18 In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved.
19 Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but theperson who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven

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