Feb 21st - Peter Damian
When Dante mentions you by name, it should get your attention. When Dante puts you in the highest heaven, it should get our attention. Dante thought Peter paved the way for Francis of Assisi and was one of the great reformers of the Church.
But why? What did Peter do that garnished him such praise? Most people have never heard of this humble monk. And perhaps for good reason. Not many really want to hear his message against sexual impropriety for which he is probably best known , a message which seems to overwhelm his spiritual message.
But to that point, sexual immorality is nothing new and Peter's early 11th century work shows this to be true. Peter saw that sexual immorality at all levels, but especially as being practiced within the clergy, was causing serious harm to the Church and to society as a whole. For Peter, "sodomy" as he uses it - referring as it does to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Hebrew Scriptures - represents all sexual immorality, not just homosexual acts. These cities were ripe with it and it is the mindlessness of rampant and dismissive and abusive sexuality which is the point of the story. Peter uses them as the paradigm for his own day, pointing out that it is nothing new under the sun and this behavior has never been accepted.
As timeless as it is, Peter's work has great significance within our time. He addresses all forms of sexual conduct and abuse - especially of minors. He points out that the justification for sexual promiscuity falls to behaviors like the use of artificial contraceptives and self-gratification rather than living the higher nature of sexual activity, chastity, and for the clergy, celibacy. Our modern understanding of predatory sexual behavior puts his thought into an even more urgent light and shames us all for begging ignorance or seeing this as a modern innovation. His noted measures of punishment may seem harsh but look to protecting the innocent and preventing such behavior.
Certainly the chaos and societal breakdown of that time played into a false Epicurean living that disregards personal dignity, chastity, and grace but as Peter tells - that is no excuse for not living holy lives. Same is true today- just because we feel that society is going to hell in a hand-basket is not excuse to abandon Faith. Perhaps a fuller reading of his works by both clergy and laity would do us a world of good.
But Peter was not just a one trick pony; as a saint he is admired more for his spiritual writing and guidance.
Our souls then must seek this Spirit without ceasing; by His quickening they live, by His light they see, by His teaching they know, by His leadership they come by the unhindered way of love to their native country. Let us then ask of our God, not as the poor entreat the rich of this world, for money, or food, or clothing for our naked bodies, for He who forbade us to be anxious and careful of these things knows that we have need of them; but let us implore Him to give us that which we need more than anything else, and which it most delights Him to give to those who ask for it. We must demand without ceasing that which He Himself urges us to demand and gives us certain hope of receiving. For if we ask, if we knock it shall be opened unto us; and our heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.
-- From the Sermon on the Holy Spirit and His Grace
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