St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456)
It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events. Imagine being born in the fourteenth century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times. John Capistrano was born in 1386. His education was thorough. His talents and success were great. When he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia. Imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas, he resolved to change his way of life completely. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later. His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion. The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed and the "Spirituals" were freed from interference in their stricter observance. He helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement. When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, he was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Junyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to the infection bred by the refuse of battle. He died October 23, 1456. On the saint's tomb in the Austrian town of Villach, the governor had this message inscribed: "This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise, defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven." That is a fitting epitaph for a real and successful optimist.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (12.54-59)
Jesus said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."
The Great Sign
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)
In his book, A History of Apologetics, Cardinal Avery Dulles speaks with praise of the Christian apologetics mounted by some Anglican authors against the prevailing deism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Deism typically allowed a religion based on rational consideration of the world of Nature. Nature was the voice of its creator, and reason was the instrument that attains its religious meaning. Nature constituted a natural revelation and was a reliable basis of religion, whereas supernatural and historical revelation was ultimately doubtful. Its basis was faith, and faith in the final analysis was not reasonable. There were various answers to this, but one famous one - noted by Dulles in his historical survey - was that of Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), entitled The Analogy of Religion. The work had a considerable influence on John Henry Newman, later Cardinal, during the height of his Anglican years. Butler’s pivotal point is that there is a likeness between the course and constitution of the world and the doctrines of religion - suggesting that the Author of nature is the same as the Author of the doctrines of religion, both natural and revealed. This is not the place to discuss this as an argument supporting revealed religion - in any case it assumes that the audience accepts a creator God who is the author of nature. My point is to highlight the analogy Butler sees between the course and constitution of the world and the doctrines revealed by God. I believe this very point is implied in so many of our Lord’s parables. The same God, who reveals Himself and His plan above all in Christ and His teaching, is the God who rules the world - and the world can be thus seen as illustrating certain of revealed doctrines. Our Lord himself draws on what happens in the world to illustrate the doctrines He is revealing. There is something of a likeness there that we can advert to, which will help us realize with greater effect the doctrine being considered.
Consider the doctrine of the Judgment of God. In our Gospel today our Lord says that people can see the signs of a coming change in the weather, but do not notice the signs given by God of His coming judgment. “Jesus said to the crowd: When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?” What is our Lord referring to here, and that His audience is incapable of interpreting from the signs available? He provides an illustration, this time not from the workings of the world, but from ordinary social and civil life. It is the imminent threat of civil judgment and punishment. Everyday life suggests the imperative of reconciling to one’s obligations in order to avoid this most certain judgment. “Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Luke 12: 54-59). On the way to the court, all the signs indicate that you may be found guilty and thrown into prison. So, you ought know you had best be reconciled with your adversary on the way so as to avoid this. Our Lord is saying, just so - see the signs! Be reconciled to God and keep His commandments! In the concrete this means, hear the saving news of the Gospel and receive with obedience and joy the tidings of Christ and His Revelation. Do not truculently refuse Christ, for He is the great sign from God of His saving plan. He is the sign that reveals and indeed embodies it, for in seeing Him we see the Father. As the Father said from the cloud on the mountain, this is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him! Let us bow in spirit before Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Our Divine Friend. He is the manifestation of God and of His Divine Plan. He is The Sign of all Signs, a notice of what is coming. By receiving Him into our hearts, we embrace already the life that will be ours, hereafter, ...Life Divine...Life Abundant...Life Everlasting. He is the image of the unseen God. He is God Incarnate - the term of all human longing and striving. Let us not so foolish, as to do what the prudent man would not do in ordinary life, ignoring this sign and gift that has been bestowed on us by Our Loving God.
Let us bow in spirit before Jesus Christ our Lord and our Divine Friend. He is the manifestation of God and His divine plan. He is the Sign of all signs, the Notice of what is coming. By receiving him into our hearts, we embrace the life that will be ours hereafter, life divine, live abundant, life everlasting. He is the image of the unseen God, God incarnate, the term of all human longing and striving. Let us not be so foolish as to do what the prudent man would not do in ordinary life, ignoring this sign and gift that has been bestowed on us by our loving God.