Monday, January 18, 2010

St. Charles of Sezze (1613-1670)

Charles thought that God was calling him to be a missionary in India, but he never got there. God had something better for this 17th-century successor to Brother Juniper. Born in Sezze, southeast of Rome, Charles was inspired by the lives of Salvator Horta and Paschal Baylon to become a Franciscan; he did that in 1635. Charles tells us in his autobiography, "Our Lord put in my heart a determination to become a lay brother with a great desire to be poor and to beg alms for his love." Charles served as cook, porter, sacristan, gardener and beggar at various friaries in Italy. In some ways, he was "an accident waiting to happen." He once started a huge fire in the kitchen when the oil in which he was frying onions burst into flames. One story shows how thoroughly Charles adopted the spirit of St. Francis. The superior ordered Charles — then porter — to give food only to traveling friars who came to the door. Charles obeyed this direction; simultaneously the alms to the friars decreased. Charles convinced the superior the two facts were related. When the friars resumed giving goods to all who asked at the door, alms to the friars increased also. At the direction of his confessor Charles wrote his autobiography, The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God. He also wrote several other spiritual books. He made good use of his various spiritual directors throughout the years; they helped him discern which of Charles’ ideas or ambitions were from God. Charles himself was sought out for spiritual advice. The dying Pope Clement IX called Charles to his bedside for a blessing. Charles had a firm sense of God’s providence. Father Severino Gori has said, "By word and example he recalled in all the need of pursuing only that which is eternal" (Leonard Perotti, St. Charles of Sezze: An Autobiography, page 215). He died at San Francesco a Ripa in Rome and was buried there. Pope John XXIII canonized him in 1959.

Father Gori says that the autobiography of Charles "stands as a very strong refutation of the opinion, quite common among religious people, that saints are born saints, that they are privileged right from their first appearance on this earth. This is not so. Saints become saints in the usual way, due to the generous fidelity of their correspondence to divine grace. They had to fight just as we do, and more so, against their passions, the world and the devil" (St. Charles of Sezze: An Autobiography, page viii).


The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (2:18-22)

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not? Jesus answered, How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. No-one sews a patch of cloth that has not shrunk on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no-one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.


It is new!
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of several key elements of the Jewish religion that gave it notoriety among the peoples was its observance of the Sabbath. It was a constant cause of conflict between our Lord and several of the religious leaders that he did not observe many of the practices of the Sabbath which they had stipulated. Thus he was attacked for healing on the Sabbath and for permitting his disciples to pick ears of corn on the Sabbath in order to satisfy their hunger. Another notable feature of the Jewish religion was fasting. It was a mark of religious earnestness among the Jews that they fasted, and in fact the Jewish religion was somewhat notorious among the pagans for the its practice of fasting. Some pagan writers even thought that the Jews fasted on the Sabbath, which they did not. Fasting is referred to repeatedly in the Old Testament - and in fact here our Lord informs his interlocutors that his own disciples "will fast." Our Gospel scene today opens with the author setting the context, which is that "John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting." So it is that "some people came and asked Jesus, How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" It was plain to them that our Lord was a prophet, that he was filled with God and of eminent holiness. But to all appearances he was not notable in his fasting practices - as was, say, John - and he did not impose a regime of fasting on his disciples in the way John and the Pharisees did theirs. Indeed, in another passage of the Gospels our Lord contrasts himself with John. John came neither eating nor drinking, whereas the Son of Man did come eating and drinking. The leaders called John a man possessed, while him they called a drunkard and a glutton. So some of the people were puzzled; they could not understand what was going on; they could not fit it together. What did the religion of Jesus amount to? Our Lord calmly and sovereignly - and we may imagine, with a smile - explained to these children of Abraham that there was something altogether new here. It could not be business - the business of religion - as usual. A new start was being made, and later they would fast.

It was a new start indeed. "No-one sews a patch of cloth that has not shrunk on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no-one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins." Jesus was the new piece, the new garment of revealed religion which would clothe the peoples. He was the new wine from which all would be invited to drink. God had revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob long before, and these patriarchs had faithfully handed on the Revelation. He revealed himself to Moses and the prophets, and these had handed on the divine Revelation. The chosen people knew they were called to hear and to live by that word of the living God - the God who was the Bridegroom of the people. But in our passage today, our Lord calmly and almost casually indicates that the Bridegroom had now arrived. A new relationship with his people was about to be established, and the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham was about to be seen. "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not? Jesus answered, How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast" (Mark 2: 18-22). At this point, with the Bridegroom now among them, it could not be business as usual in things religious. His disciples must come to know him, learn from him, base their lives on him. Revealed religion was a new thing - it was the love and worship and service of him. He was not just a master instructing his disciples, as were John and the leading Pharisees. He was the object of their friendship, their worship and their service. He was the very Bridegroom. This had to be learned and placed at the heart of religion, and then, when the time came for him to be "taken away," they would fast.

That is to say, if we wish to be a disciple of Christ, first things must come first. St Paul would write that all the fasting in the world would be useless if it had not love. The first love in our life is our love for Christ. This is what must be learnt first and above all. Jesus Christ is the centre and focus of the Christian religion. He is not just our Teacher - though he is most certainly our Teacher. He is our Lord and our God. Our life is life in him, and his gift to us is a share in his own Spirit, enabling us to live consistently the life of God, if we but set our hearts and minds to it. Let us then place Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, and never allow anything to take his place - and certainly never the very practices of religion.

1 comment: