Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Other Mendicant Friar

Today's Second Reading from the Office of the memorial for the Angelic Doctor is taken from a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest, entitled: The Cross exemplifies every virtue:

"Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
  It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.
  If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
  If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.
  If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
  If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
  If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.
  Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

For those eager to keep at least at arm's length a life of sacrifice and self-abnegation, the words of this Dominican "giant" go in one ear and out the other, bypassing the heart and conscience. Even for good people, ignorant of our Catholic roots, many haven't a clue as to where to start with such. We need an awakening, all of us, I fear. This would be my prayer intention for today.

To "hobbyhorse" for a moment, this brings me back to the urgency of recovering our Catholic culture. The passing of a dear friend of our family, last week shortly after their 69th wedding anniversary, brought back stories from my Mom about Fritz and Dad "having to pay" for sleeping in on New Year's Day and having to go to the over-filled Pontifical High Mass at noon and kneel on the stone floor in the back of the cathedral. I could laugh with Mom's generation, but younger folk need every detail of the story about young adults explained. Even then I doubt if people under 50 can really understand, as they do not even comprehend the simply beautiful interplay of choice and obligation, obviously cloaked in devotion, which brings forth laughter from 65+ years ago.

We are a very long way from the world of the mendicant friars, like Francis and Dominic, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. We talk up poverty, but these men mostly refused to ride a mule, let alone get into a carriage; they walked clear across Europe and back. Most of them didn't live to be 50, because of the deprivations which were typical of the mendicant lifestyle of their day. St. Elizabeth of Hungary or Thuringen pleaded with her confessor after having given away all which was hers for the privilege to be able to beg door to door.... in imitation of Christ. Do we really understand what these people understood by saying with fervor and determination that they wished to follow Christ in His poverty? I think not. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta and her sisters today come close and meet misunderstanding and criticism for failing in efficiency in helping the poor to escape their poverty. It is indeed another world.

Another of my favorite authors, Lorenzo Scupoli, in his classic, The Spiritual Combat, taught very clearly what our priorities should be, especially in a world other than that of the mendicants and even other than his world, so caught up in missionary zeal:

"For, although in itself the conversion of souls is dearer to God than the mortification of an irregular desire, yet it is not your duty to will and perform that which is in itself more excellent, but that which God before all else strictly desires and requires of you. For He doubtless seeks and desires of you self-conquest, and the thorough mortification of your passions, rather than that you, wilfully leaving one of them alive in you, should perform in some other direction some greater and more notable service for His sake. Now you see wherein the real perfection of a Christian lies, and that to obtain it you must enter upon a constant and sharp warfare against self..." (p. 4, Kindle Edition)

St. Thomas Aquinas rightly exhorts us to embrace the Cross like Jesus did. He teaches us what that implies. May our hearts be open and the adventure of self-conquest through obedience to the Divine Will allow Christ's Light through us to shine upon our world!


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