Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza (c. 1200-1271)

Dominicans honour one of their own today, Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza. This was a man who used his skills as a preacher to challenge the heresies of his day. Bartholomew was born in Vicenza around 1200. At 20 he entered the Dominicans. Following his ordination he served in various leadership positions. As a young priest he founded a military order whose purpose was to keep civil peace in towns throughout Italy. In 1248, Bartholomew was appointed a bishop. For most men, such an appointment is an honour and a tribute to their holiness and their demonstrated leadership skills. But for Bartholomew, it was a form of exile that had been urged by an antipapal group that was only too happy to see him leave for Cyprus. Not many years later, however, Bartholomew was transferred back to Vicenza. Despite the antipapal feelings that were still evident, he worked diligently—especially through his preaching—to rebuild his diocese and strengthen the people’s loyalty to Rome. During his years as bishop in Cyprus, Bartholomew befriended King Louis the Ninth of France, who is said to have given the holy bishop a relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Bartholomew died in 1271. He was beatified in 1793.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke (13.18-21)

Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches. Again he asked, What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

Kingdom and Church
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

In October of 2009 there was a presentation (Compass) by Australian ABC television on the Sydney Anglicans. It showed its impressive evangelical dynamism, the active involvement of youth, and the thought and perspective of its current Archbishop. What was particularly manifest in the Anglicanism of Sydney was the centrality of Scripture. It was shown to be an Evangelical diocese and this meant that the all-important issue was the proclamation of the message of Scripture, as it is understood by evangelical Anglicanism. It was clear that Sydney Anglicanism in the main stood in the tradition of English Puritanism, in which all that truly matters is the word of God. The Archbishop was interviewed at length during the programme and the Church and its institutions were viewed as an adjunct to the word as proclaimed by its ministers. Sydney Anglicanism strongly resisted movements which undermine the clear teaching of Scripture. The observer would notice, though, that in the Evangelical scheme everything hinges on the individual interpreter of Scripture. His personal judgment on the teaching of Scripture is pivotal. The notion of a definite, structured, divinely instituted Church which guides the reader is discounted. While the Evangelical would strongly deny that theirs is ultimately a subjectivist principle, it is obviously the seed of profound divergences in Christianity. What one man or body accounts to be the clear teaching of Scripture, another will in all sincerity contradict. When it becomes accepted in society that the Christian religion is a vast cluster based on various and conflicting interpretations of a sacred text, then it is a short step to a widespread assumption that Christ came to begin nothing more than a movement. He began a movement in history of those who prize the recorded text of his words and make it their business to shape their lives according to their reading of this sacred text. But Christ did not come to begin a movement of those who look to an inspired text. He came to establish a definite and structured Kingdom, the life of which would be nourished by this sacred text, but not reducible to the individual’s reading of it.

It is clear from the Gospels that Christ came establishing a Kingdom, which is none other than God’s promised rule. It consists in union with Jesus who is its King, and all those who are in union with Him. It is also clear from the Gospels that this Divine Kingdom is inextricably bound up with the Church. The Church is the locale of this Kingdom, the means of entry to it, and the instrument of its growth and spread. As we read in the Gospel of St Matthew, Christ appointed one to be the visible rock on which he would build this Church, and to him he gave the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. That rock was Simon Peter, the first of the holders of the Keys. Christ the King thus appointed a prime minister to govern this Church in his name. It is the bearer of the Kingdom. Peter would bind and loose, his decisions would be ratified in heaven, and the powers of Hell would never prevail. The point is that Christ did not present a text for His disciples to bring to the world. He entrusted not a text to them but His very Self. It is He who is brought to the world by His Church. In Him is present the Kingdom, and entry into the Kingdom comes from union with Him, and that is achieved by means of His body the Church. Christ and union with Him is the Kingdom, and the Church is His body. The Church is Christ’s direct creation and precedes the inspired text of the Gospels and the New Testament. The Twelve and all the disciples were to bring Him to the world, making disciples of all the nations. The inspired text arose from within the Church as the Church’s Book to help nourish all her children. There is a further point. It is clear that our Lord taught that this Divine Kingdom here on earth would grow and develop. As we read in today’s Gospel passage, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches” (Luke 13: 18-21). Thus the Church, central to the mission of Christ and His Kingdom, develops in history. It is not a static reality, but in its various features develops, including in its doctrine which is none other than her official understanding and teaching of the word of her Divine Master.

As we think of our Lord’s words on the Kingdom and its growth, let us think of the Church which is Christ’s grand instrument of the presence and advancement of this Kingdom. Let us love the Church and understand that in her we find all that Christ bestowed on His faithful. It is in the Church and by her teaching that the inspired text is truly understood. It is in the Church’s Sacraments and life that the Person of her Lord is encountered. Let us never in our hearts say, Christ and His word, yes! But the Church, no! Rather, Christ my Lord and the Church, yes! Christ with the Church, Christ in the Church, Christ through the Church, yes and always!

1 comment:

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