Just How Catholic Are You?

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TWENTY–EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 89: 12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30

Sentire Cum Ecclesia

Allow me to ask a very pointed question. Just how Catholic are you? How does one measure the degree of one’s Catholicism? The wise old Latin aphorism, Sentire cum Ecclesia: to feel with the Church, to have the Church’s sensibility, remains a touchstone of Catholic identity.

One’s response to the canonization of new saints is, in effect, a very reliable spiritual thermometer. When, upon hearing the news of another canonization, one says, “Ho, hum,” and then yawns in jaded disinterest, one’s Catholicism is in peril. One is in grave danger of becoming, for all practical purposes, a kind of Protestant content to plod along in the narrow furrows of an individualistic and privatized piety, disconnected from the mystery of a Church that is universal, a Church that is astonishingly fruitful in every age, place, and culture.

Antipathy Toward the Saints?

I fear that sometimes we fall into a kind of neo–Jansenism. One of the hallmarks of the chilling Jansenist heresy was a certain antipathy toward the saints. The Jansenists, like some Catholics a few generations ago, were in favour of a very lean liturgical calendar quite shorn of the splendours of the saints. At some level, the Jansenists were resistant to the mystery of the Church as a family: a family bound together by the covenant made in the Blood of the Lamb, a family characterized by the mercy that shines on the faces of her saints.

The Family of the Church

The Church, you see, is a universal family. More than that, she is a family whose members in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory are in constant communication, exchanging spiritual goods in such a way as to strengthen the bonds of a communion that is gloriously alive. The saints are our relations, nearer and dearer to us than many of the relations to whom we are bound by ties of flesh and blood. How do you respond when news reaches you of an event in the life of your fleshly family? A pregnancy, a birth, a baptism, a graduation, a wedding, an anniversary, a death? Are you eager for news? Are you happy to see photographs? Do you treasure mementos of milestones in the lives of your loved ones?

Now ask yourself how you respond when news reaches you of an event in the life of your family of grace, the Church. A martyrdom, a beatification, a canonization, a pilgrimage, a discourse of the Holy Father? Where your treasure is, there also is your heart. One’s whose heart is in the heart of the Church cannot remain indifferent to anything that touches her life or expresses it.

Lives of the Saints

I recall with admiration the policy of Dom André, the former Abbot of Rougemont, who without fail would have the biography of every newly canonized saint read in the refectory. What wisdom in that practice! The life of the new saint, his or her virtues, and the times, places, and culture in which he or she lived would be the subject of wholesome conversation at recreation for weeks on end. The community would be educated and edified — that is to say, built up in holiness — at the same time.

What will be the impact on our lives of the four canonizations that took place this morning in Saint Peter’s Square? Each of the four new saints has something to offer us:
— the heroic Mexican bishop Rafael Guízar Valencia;
— the Neapolitan priest Filippo Smaldone, a fervent adorer of the Most Holy Eucharist and the founder of a congregation for the education of deaf–mutes;
— the French American Mother Theodore Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods in Indiana;
— and the Italian initiator of free public education, Rosa Venerini.
These new saints are our relations in the order of grace. What a pity merely to read their names and then turn the page!

Lovers of Wisdom

In all four saints we see lovers of Divine Wisdom. They prayed and understanding was given them; they called upon God and wisdom came to them (cf. Wis 7:7). They preferred the Wisdom of the Cross to health and beauty (cf. Wis 7:10). They chose Wisdom rather than than the fading natural light because her radiance never ceases (cf. Wis 7:10).

They Numbered Their Days Aright

The saints are those who, in the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm, “numbered their days aright so as to gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 89:12). If only we could learn from the saints how to number our days aright and how to get up in the morning seeking nothing so much as the mercy of God!

Hearts Wounded by the Word

The saints are those who exposed themselves fearlessly — I want to say almost recklessly — to the two–edged sword of the Word of God, choosing to be pierced to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow (cf. Heb 4:12). And this not once, but day after day. The saints are those who live with wounded hearts for, apart from the wound of Divine Love inflicted by the two–edged sword of the Word, there is no healing from the wounds of sin.

Doers of the Impossible

Finally, the saints are those who, unlike the rich young man in today’s Gospel who went away sorrowful because of his great possessions, willingly renounced all things for The One Thing Necessary (cf. Lk 10:42): life in the company of Jesus. “With men this is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible to God” (Mk 10:27). Where did the saints find the assurance that with God all things are possible? In the contemplation of the Face of Christ.

The Holy Face of Christ

Saint Mark tells us today that when Jesus heard the young man speak, “looking upon him, he loved him” (Mk 10:21). If only the rich young man had lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of Jesus, if only he had, even for a moment, contemplated His Holy Face, he would have read there the immense love of the Heart of Jesus and, in that love, found the strength to do the impossible: to leave behind all things for Christ.

The Companionship of the Saints

An old French proverb says, “Dis–moi qui tu hantes et je te dirai qui tu es.” Loosely translated: “Tell me with whom you keep company, and I will tell you who you are.” If you would be a saint, keep company with the saints.

To keep company means to live in the intimacy signified by sharing the same bread with another. Keep company with the saints day after day in the mystical companionship of the Mass, the sacred Breaking of the Bread. The saints are our nearest and dearest relations. In the Eucharist they are not separated from us — not by time nor by space. Today the saints will surround the altar in the Holy Sacrifice, just as they do every day. Be present to them and, with them, lift your eyes to the Eucharistic Face of Love and there discover, as they did, that “all things are possible with God” (Mk 10:27).

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Over at Vultus Christi, Don Marco asks, "just how Catholic are you?" One’s response to the canonization of new saints is, in effect, a very reliable spiritual thermometer. When, upon hearing the news of another canonization, one says, “Ho, hum,? and th... Read More

2 Comments

I'm not sure that a skeptic is automatically a Jansenist. Neither a person who might prefer a straight-line Lectionary rather than a scattershot approach of many saints.

That said, I do think there are ways other than liturgical observance to honor saints. It is good to have these four unique persons and their inspiring service on earth to be our spiritual heroes.

Yet might I not be more Catholic in wishing for more outstanding examples of lay people, rather than so many clergy and religious? In at least a few saints from my own diocese or region? As a parent of a special needs child, an example of saintly parenting I could call upon when my child is in the hospital or in other need?

My problem with the official Catholic administration of saints is not that we have too many, but that we don't engage our imaginations enough. I put that charge at the feet of the curia and with our bishops. I do so as a Catholic looking for answers and better examples, not a ho-hum approach I see more of in the hierarchy than I see amongst the laity.

Thank you, dear Father, for your beautiful, inspiring and profound homilies. I should like to comment on very many of them, but time does not allow. I am glad you bring out so often our communion with the saints. Today, I thought you would preach on the Holy Face of Jesus because of the Gospel reading and also the line from Hebrews: "...before the eyes of Him with whom we have to deal." You mentioned that the saints were the ones who contemplated the face of Christ and left all, and if only the rich young man had done so, he would not have gone away sad. I thought you would enjoy this (perhaps you already know it)which illustrates this truth: On the feast of All Saints of the Seraphic Order, this same Gospel is used, but it ends with Our Lord's words "Come, follow me". It omits the telling of the young man going away sorrowful. Meaning to say that the saints are the ones who have looked upon the face of Christ and known His love for them and thus could not turn away...
Is that not also true for us who seek him- "We have come to know and to believe in..Love..."

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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