Saturday, October 24, 2009

St Anthony Claret, bishop (1807-1870)

The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: the future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for stamping out concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights. He was called back to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." He died in exile near the border of Spain at the age of 63. Jesus foretold that those who are truly his representatives would suffer the same persecution as he did. Besides 14 attempts on his life, Anthony had to undergo such a barrage of the ugliest slander that the very name Claret became a byword for humiliation and misfortune. The powers of evil do not easily give up their prey. No one needs to go looking for persecution. All we need to do is be sure we suffer because of our genuine faith in Christ, not for our own whims and imprudences. Queen Isabella II once said to Anthony, "No one tells me things as clearly and frankly as you do." Later she told her chaplain, "Everybody is always asking me for favours, but you never do. Isn't there something you would like for yourself?" He replied, "Yes, that you let me resign." The queen made no more offers.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (13.1-9)

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them— do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

Suffering and Sin
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

In the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first, Peter Singer has been considered as one of Australia’s foremost public intellectuals. He occupied stellar positions in academic philosophy in both Australia and the United States, specialising in applied ethics and approaching ethical issues from a secular preference utilitarian perspective, of which he is a leading exponent. In common with other utilitarians, he believes that right action is that which produces the most favourable results for those who are involved. Singer interprets “the good” as being the satisfaction of each person’s preferences, and a right action is that which leads to this satisfaction. Thus there is nothing that is “good” (or bad) in itself except for the person’s resulting state of mind. I mention Singer only to quote what he said on one occasion about God and creation. Singer was asked on television if he believes in God, and he smilingly dismissed such an idea. There cannot be a God because the obvious mess everywhere precludes such a proposition. There is too much suffering, too much evil, too much disorder for this world to be the work of an all-powerful, all-wise, and all-holy Creator - which is what God is supposed to be. Of course, there is nothing very original about this remark, which is not to say that it is not a telling one. There are so many things in life which we, from our perspective, find very puzzling indeed in view of the fact that all is in the hands of a loving Creator. The man of religion believes in God with conviction, but that does not eliminate his problems with the state of the world. The man without religion likewise has his problems with the state of the world, and these problems can lead him to reject or ignore God. The evil, the suffering and the disorder are just that - they constitute a problem which in philosophical discourse is typically called the problem of evil. I can think of one prominent anthropologist who wrote that indigenous religions could be understood and described in terms of the answer their myths and rituals give to this problem.

In our gospel passage today, our Lord is informed of an injustice of which there are countless instances in the great course of human history. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” The Roman procurator had massacred several persons in the Temple itself. The Jew would not call into question the very existence of God because of his allowing this injustice to happen - as might the modern man. Rather, typically he thought that such a tragic mishap was due to the victim’s own sin. Sin ultimately brings the punishment of God, and so, he thought, what one suffers in this world is due to one’s own sin. Further, the suffering in this world is proportionate to the degree of one’s sins. Suffering, then, is a personal punishment for sin. The greater the suffering, the greater a sinner must the sufferer be. But no, our Lord tells them. Just because sin ultimately attracts divine punishment and, with it, suffering, this does not mean that all suffering is in fact a divine punishment for the one who is suffering. It certainly does not mean that the suffering a person undergoes in this life is an indicator of the scale of his sin when compared to the sin of others. “Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13: 1-9). Our Lord does not, here in this scene, explain why God allowed those who suffered this injustice inflicted on them by Pilate. He does say, though, that it is an indicator of the punishment that will fall on the unrepentant sinner. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Of ourselves, we cannot plumb to its depths the reason why a good and all powerful God allows people to suffer - although, actually, much has been revealed by God about this. But our Lord does make it clear that God wants the evil and suffering of the world to remind us of the ultimate suffering that will be ours if we do not repent of our sins. That is to say, God will judge and condemn the unrepentant.

Let us remember that it is the Saviour who utters these words about the judgment that will fall on the sinner who refuses to repent. He Himself took the part of sinners and on His shoulders was laid the burden of the sins of the world. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and He did this precisely by His suffering. Thus has suffering been transformed into a means of redemption. Furthermore, the Christian is invited by his Lord to come and follow Him. This means dying with Him so as to share in His resurrection, and to bring a share in His resurrection to others. Suffering is now the greatest means of good, provided we suffer with Christ. Let us then do as He says and take up our cross every day and follow in His footsteps.

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