Friday, November 6, 2009

St. Nicholas Tavelic and Companions (d. 1391)

Nicholas and his three companions are among the 158 Franciscans who have been martyred in the Holy Land since the friars became custodians of the shrines in 1335. Nicholas was born in 1340 to a wealthy and noble family in Croatia. He joined the Franciscans and was sent with Deodat of Rodez to preach in Bosnia. In 1384 they volunteered for the Holy Land missions and were sent there. They looked after the holy places, cared for the Christian pilgrims and studied Arabic. In 1391 Nicholas, Deodat, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo decided to take a direct approach to converting the Muslims. On November 11, 1391, they went to the huge Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and asked to see the Qadi (Muslim official). Reading from a prepared statement, they said that all people must accept the gospel of Jesus. When they were ordered to retract their statement, they refused. After beatings and imprisonment, they were beheaded before a large crowd. Nicholas and his companions were canonized in 1970. They are the only Franciscans martyred in the Holy Land to be canonized.

In the Rule of 1221, Francis wrote that the friars going to the Saracens (Muslims) "can conduct themselves among them spiritually in two ways. One way is to avoid quarrels or disputes and 'be subject to every human creature for God's sake' (1 Peter 2:13), so bearing witness to the fact that they are Christians. Another way is to proclaim the word of God openly, when they see that is God's will, calling on their hearers to believe in God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, and in the Son, the Redeemer and Saviour, that they may be baptized and become true and spiritual Christians" (Ch. 16).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (16.1-8)

Jesus told his disciples: There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg—I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

Being shrewd
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Karl Marx was obviously inspired by the thought of justice and prosperity being brought to the oppressed masses. The analysis by Engels of the condition of the working classes horrified him. Religion, he thought, was a bad dream, a distraction from the real business of life which was to attain material prosperity. Religion was an opiate, dulling the pain of the oppressed with the thought of a higher happiness. As it turned out, as an economic strategy - setting aside deeper considerations - communism proved to be profoundly misguided. In its various oppressions, it ignored the right to personal freedom involving individual initiative and recompense (profit) for one’s own labour. But there is this to be said, that a religious person could take a cue from Marxism in its setting of clear goals and resolutely using the means to attain them. The economic opponent of Marxism, classic capitalism, was equally intent on material prosperity and, for its part, it regarded religion not as an opiate but as irrelevant. Typically it sought its goals, not as if God was an enemy, but as if God did not exist. In purely economic terms capitalism was much more successful than Marxism but at enormous cost to those without capital. It was a different form of oppression. But once again the religious person could take a cue from capitalism in its setting of goals and in its resolutely applying the means to attain them. The radical mistake of both Marxism and capitalism lay in its blindness to the transcendent. God was not at the heart of the endeavour, which was his proper place, for he is at the heart of the universe and of every slither of it. All things are sustained by the finger of God and if his law is opposed or disregarded, then a vast unravelling is set in place. This is the obvious lesson of the Fall of Adam and Eve, and that Fall is iconic of the fundamental issues in true prosperity. If man is to flourish, God must be listened to and obeyed. That having been said, the man of religion - which should be every man - must beware. Yes, he has the light to see that man’s true calling is to God. But is he working at it, shrewdly applying the means to attain his goals?

If a man sets out to be rich, he simply must set goals and shrewdly identify the means to attain them. If a company is to flourish, its board must have a very good strategy especially in times of uncertainty. Marxism, for instance, was not a very good strategy, even for its own purposes. Many people have been very successful and though favourable circumstances played a part, so did strategy and their hard work. This is the point that Everyman, the Everyman of all times and places, ought take to heart. All must have a strategy and all must put in consistent work. I am referring here to the work of attaining our true end. Whatever be a person’s place in the economic race of human society, whatever be his capital, whatever be his labour, whatever be his accomplishments or lack of them, every person on the face of the earth has a tremendous work ahead of him. If he fails in that work he has lost everything. There is a tremendous prize for everyone, a prize within the reach of the highest and the lowest, and everything that a person does in life ought be part of his strategy to reach that goal. It is the true treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. It is not a treasure that is reserved for the few who may have special resources or abilities and perhaps especially favourable circumstances to assist them. Whatever be the circumstances and whatever be the gifts and resources a person is born with, the treasure is meant to be theirs. God has from before the foundation of the world chosen each for the enjoyment of that everlasting treasure. The treasure is union with Christ here and hereafter. But he must work at it. He must shrewdly set the goal which God has set for him, and he must select the means which God has revealed are necessary to attain it. That goal is personal holiness in Christ. It is a daily work, and those successful in the things of this world can be a lesson to those who are aware that man’s true treasure is God. In our Gospel today, our Lord warns all that “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16: 1-8).

Jesus Christ is the greatest Teacher of mankind, but compare his teachings with, say, those of so many philosophers. Compare them with the teachings of Aristotle. One thing that distinguishes the sayings of Christ is their amazing simplicity. Even the highest mysteries are expressed in a wondrous simplicity of expression. Our Lord’s teaching in today’s Gospel is profound and simple. You have been given the light. I am your true happiness. Heaven is your homeland. Learn from those who attain their worldly goals to work shrewdly to attain your heavenly goals. Take the means to live in me and resolutely run the race to the finish. Reach your true end. Do not squander the light.

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