There is contention about the validity and place of the Fathers in the practice of our Faith. It is the argument of some that it is their introduction of philosophical language which corrupts the true church. We who honor the Fathers see their efforts as helping to guide and remove corruption from the Church. Their ability to articulate understandings about the Faith answers doubt and right inaccurate thinking. It is easy to dismiss them as non-biblical but to ignore the Fathers is to fall into many of the traps that they speak against.
Peter's ability to voice complex ideas succinctly and brilliantly led many to deeper understanding and practice of the Faith. In fact it would be easy to place a complete copy of any of his homilies here because they are so short and to the point. But for even more brevity I will only sample two with similar themes.
Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men. He who made humans without generation from pure clay made man again and was born from a pure body. The hand that assumed clay to make our flesh deigned to assume a body for your salvation. That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.
Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God?
Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him?
Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?
-- From a Homily on the Nativity of Christ
The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfill what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.
-- From Sermon 117
I am always surprised about the tension and high feelings that come up about Martha and Mary, as if one of the things we have to do is compare ourselves to others and choose one over the other. Jesus certainly points out something but it is not a comparison. Jesus calls Martha to task over her worry, not her choice of actions. The mention of Mary is to call Martha to think about what she does and thinks and does not compare her to Mary as Mary being better. One other certainty is that later Mary wails over Lazarus' death while Martha proclaims her beliefs. Jesus calls us to be true to him no matter who we are.
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."
-- Luke 10:38-42
We do not often think of Old Testament players as "Saint". We do not say St. David or St. Moses, but we believe that they are, because we believe that Christ opened the gates of Heaven and all the souls that had been waiting were granted admittance. Elijah is celebrated in both the East and the West.
Elijah's name takes the two names for God used in the Pentateuch and brings them together: "my God is Y**H" or simply, "El[ohim] is Y**H". There is only one God, though we recognize His distinct aspects, what we would call "persons", and that is what Elijah's name points out.
Aside from that powerful theological witness, Elijah is also the patron of desert monks, especially the Carmelites, because he defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and took refuge in a cave on Mt. Horeb and found God there.
He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him: Why are you here, Elijah? He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;* the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?
-- 1 Kings 19:3b-13
I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of the Church of England, for the first Church of England Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively from those now living.
-- From his speech on the scaffold
Care of the sick is a Corporeal Work of Mercy. Let us pray for all who care for the sick and infirmed, and let us pray for his intervention for when we are care-givers or care-receivers.
Let me start with holy charity, the root of all the virtues and the gift most characteristic of Camillus. He was so fired by this virtue, both towards God and towards his neighbors, especially the sick, that just to see them was enough to melt his tender heart and to make him forget every pleasure, every earthly delight and attachment. Indeed, even when ministering to just one sick man, he seemed to burn himself up and wear himself out with the utmost devotion and compassion. Gladly would he have taken upon himself all their sickness and sufferings to alleviate their pain or take away their weakness.
So vividly did he picture and honor the person of Christ in them that often when distributing food to them he thought of them as his ‘Christs’, and would beg of them grace and the remission of sins. Hence he was as reverent before them as if he were really and truly in the presence of his Lord. Of nothing would he speak more frequently or fervently than of holy charity. He longed that it should take root in the heart of every man.
-- From a Life of St Camillus
Bonaventure is more that just a theologian and Doctor of the Church. If we think of him as a Franciscan first, then we have to start with his commitment to poverty, his love of the natural world, and his opposition to rigid structures. Then we have to move into his mysticism which has a very practical side. The natural world, Creation, is the first step towards God but it is not everything. Understanding starts in the world around us and flows upwards, toward God
Blessed is the man whose help is from You. In his heart he is disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set [Psalm, 84:6]. Since beatitude is nothing else than the fruition of the highest good, and the highest good is above us, none can be made blessed unless he ascend above himself, not by the ascent of his body but by that of his heart. But we cannot be raised above ourselves except by a higher power raising us up. But we cannot be raised above ourselves except by a higher power raising us up. For howsoever the interior steps are disposed, nothing is accomplished unless it is accompanied by divine aid. Divine help, however, comes to those who seek it from their hearts humbly and devoutly; and this means to sigh for it in this vale of tears, aided only by fervent prayer. Thus prayer is the mother and source of ascent in God.
-- From The Mind's Road to God 1,1
Sometimes we make things into victories and completely miss the true victory. Kateri was a Native American who became Catholic, nothing more, nothing less. It is not proof of the power of missionaries, nor the power of one faith or denomination over another, nor the power of Western culture over Native culture, nor any other number of things.
It is, however, a victory for God and God's love.
I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I'll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.
Even if his brothers had trouble following him, even if the did try to kill him, Benedict created a rule which still inspires, instructs, challenges, and defines Western monasticism. His rule also give viable instruction to those of us who live outside the cloister.
A special thank-you and prayers to the monks and abbeys that have been a part of my life and given me such a wonderful sense of Catholicism, prayer, liturgy, and friendship.
And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel; then we shall deserve to see him who has called us into his kingdom. If we wish to attain a dwelling-place in his kingdom we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.
Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life.
-- From the Rule of Benedict
Things to Think About