Monday, October 26, 2009

Blessed Contardo Ferrini (1859-1902)

Contardo Ferrini was the son of a teacher who went on to become a learned man himself, one acquainted with some dozen languages. Today he is known as the patron of universities. Born in Milan, he received a doctorate in law in Italy and then earned a scholarship that enabled him to study Roman-Byzantine law in Berlin. As a renowned legal expert, he taught in various schools of higher education until he joined the faculty of the University of Pavia, where he was considered an outstanding authority on Roman law. Contardo was learned about the faith he lived and loved. "Our life," he said, "must reach out toward the Infinite, and from that source we must draw whatever we can expect of merit and dignity." As a scholar he studied the ancient biblical languages and read the Scriptures in them. His speeches and papers show his understanding of the relationship of faith and science. He attended daily Mass and became a lay Franciscan, faithfully observing the Third Order rule of life. He also served through membership in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. His death in 1902 at the age of 43 occasioned letters from his fellow professors that praised him as a saint; the people of Suna where he lived insisted that he be declared a saint. Pope Pius XII beatified Contardo in 1947.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (13.10-17)

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath. The Lord answered him, You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Christ and satan
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

Our scene today finds us “in one of the synagogues,” and Jesus is teaching there. It is the Sabbath, the day of the Lord when God’s chosen people gathered in his presence to hear the word of the Lord. Our Lord is teaching. Consider the marvel of that very fact! The congregation is gazing on God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become man. This, I suggest, ought be the abiding wonder of the Gospel scenes. The people mixed familiarly with this marvellous man. They heard His voice, they watched His expressions, they caught His eyes, they were captivated by His speech, they gazed upon the moral beauty of His Person. So authentic and total was the incarnation that the majority did not yet perceive His lofty and transcendent identity. But there he was, the beloved Son of the Father, the Lord God Himself. We read that “the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing.” But now, during the course of His address, Our Lord noticed a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. The Greek text of the Gospel, explaining her condition, says that she had been having “a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, bending over double and quite unable to straighten up.” Notice that Luke has firm details about the facts of her case. We are not told her age, but we are told exactly how long she had been in her physical condition. It had been going on for eighteen years. Luke had obviously obtained his information from those who knew the facts of her situation well. Moreover, Luke - physician as he was - adds a detail. It is that her physical condition involved “a spirit.” There was a demonic agency involved in some sense in her pitiable condition, “a spirit of infirmity.” Seeing her, our Lord’s heart was filled with compassion and, finishing His address, he called her forward from the congregation. There she stood, bent over, perhaps leaning on some support. Before them all, our Lord forthwith released her from her infirmity. Our Lord’s power and mercy was manifested, and the longstanding and crippling burden of the woman was gone. Radiant, she stood erect.

In His ensuing clash with the jealous synagogue official who was routed in the encounter, Our Lord makes a remark about the woman that provokes further thought. He said before them all that it was satan who had held her bound all those years. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13: 10-17). Somehow satan had been very much involved in her sad affliction, and this had been going on long before our Lord arrived on the scene of her life. Our Lord does not specify in what sense satan had held her bound, and we may suppose that Luke, the physician for St Paul, would have been interested to know. But we have it on the word of our Lord that satan had been cruelly at work on her. Our Lord does not say that satan’s was the only influence. But it is clear that among all the factors that had contributed to her physical condition, satan was an active element. We remember how satan successfully encouraged Adam and Eve’s revolt against God which brought to pieces the resplendent condition in which they had come from the divine hand. In that ultimate sense satan had held bound not only this poor woman but the rest of mankind who inherited a broken human nature. But our Lord’s words imply more than this. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read that our Lord expelled a demon from a boy who had been in his hopeless condition for a long time. Clearly, there could not have been moral fault in the boy. So it is that as we think of the broad sweep of human history, with its wars, its oppression, its fire and fury and mayhem, our Lord’s words about this poor woman suggest a strong demonic element in many of the catastrophes of human history. The inexorable rise of a murderous Nazism had, assuredly, much of the demonic in it. We may imagine the crackling laughter of satan as the thundering fireball of Genghis Khan’s forces burst forth from Mongolia and reduced to smoke, blood and rubble the cities and peoples in their path.

In our Gospel scene today, Christ confronts satan and expels him from the scene. He departs, cowering and full of hate. And so the battle continues to the end of human history when God will be shown as the Conqueror. There are thus two great Standards before us, the Standard of Christ and the standard of satan. Let us take our place with Christ and fight with him against all that smells and smacks of satan. Our weapons are those of Christ, and the route we follow is His. We follow in His footsteps as He makes His way to the point of victory, which is Calvary. Let us be up and doing, then!

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