Friday, January 22, 2010

St. Vincent (d. 304)

When Jesus deliberately began his “journey” to death, Luke says that he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. It is this quality of rocklike courage that distinguishes the martyrs. Most of what we know about this saint comes from the poet Prudentius. His Acts have been rather freely colored by the imagination of their compiler. But St. Augustine, in one of his sermons on St. Vincent, speaks of having the Acts of his martyrdom before him. We are at least sure of his name, his being a deacon, the place of his death and burial. According to the story we have (and as with some of the other early martyrs the unusual devotion he inspired must have had a basis in a very heroic life), Vincent was ordained deacon by his friend St. Valerius of Zaragossa in Spain. The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace (Book of Daniel, chapter three), they seemed to thrive on suffering. Valerius was sent into exile, and Dacian, the Roman governor, now turned the full force of his fury on Vincent. Tortures that sound like those of World War II were tried. But their main effect was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself. He had the torturers beaten because they failed. Finally he suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer. Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest. Friends among the faithful came to visit him, but he was to have no earthly rest. When they finally settled him on a comfortable bed, he went to his eternal rest.

“Wherever it was that Christians were put to death, their executions did not bear the semblance of a triumph. Exteriorly they did not differ in the least from the executions of common criminals. But the moral grandeur of a martyr is essentially the same, whether he preserved his constancy in the arena before thousands of raving spectators or whether he perfected his martyrdom forsaken by all upon a pitiless flayer’s field” (The Roman Catacombs, Hertling-Kirschbaum).

A reflection on the first reading: Samuel 24: 3-21

“David’s men said to him, ‘Today is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.” David stood up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord and raising my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.” David gave his men strict instructions, forbidding them to attack Saul.’

David was one of the very greatest of the Old Testament figures, as a father and king of his people, and as a forerunner of his descendant the Messiah. His kingdom in some sense would never have an end. But let us ask, in what did his greatness consist? A central feature of the grandeur of David was his reverence and submission to God, which was manifested in his reverence and submission towards God’s representatives, even if they were unworthy. David knew that when God had anointed an individual as prophet or king, to reverence that person and to submit to him in matters due to him was to reverence and to submit to God. A second feature of his greatness was his readiness to repent, and this we see in him both here and on other occasions. How different in this respect was David from so many other figures in the Scriptures! In both these outstanding qualities we have a model. We ought have reverence towards those who represent Christ - particularly the chief pastor, his Vicar here on earth. If we fail in this (as did David here) we should repent.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 3:13-19

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve— designating them apostles— that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

No one is left out
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the most fundamental features of creation is that there is a profound variation evident everywhere. There is small and large, high and low, powerful and weak, prominent and unnoticed. In the sea there is the whale and there is the micro-organism in a deep-sea sediment. On land there is the powerful bull-elephant and there is the humble rodent. Among men there is Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, while at the same time there are the many obscure urchins who have nowhere to lay their heads. In his Providence, God calls some to prominence in the full light of day, while others remain unnoticed in the impenetrable darkness of history. Consider our Gospel scene today (Mark 3: 13-19). Our Lord has begun his redemptive mission and has gathered about him his many disciples - and it would become evident that his mission is to make of all the nations his disciples. Here, now, he calls from among his disciples a definite Twelve. He gave them a name which will be theirs forever. They were “apostles” - the word is Greek (apostoloi) and it meant “envoys,” “ambassadors.” They were called to be with him on a continual basis and to work with him in his mission. He would send them out as his envoys, and they would teach what he taught and drive out demons with his power. They would multiply his presence. At the heart of this call was his love for them, and their growing love for him. It was an immense dignity, to be his friends and collaborators. On his rising from the dead he would give to them a unique share in his own Holy Spirit. They were the object of his special love, and for all eternity they will have a unique status and dignity. On their part, this dignity was matched by worthy and holy lives, and the feast day of each is celebrated annually in the Church’s Liturgical Year. The one tragic fall was that of Judas, who was soon replaced by Matthias. The point being made here is that it all flowed from the special call of Jesus to each Apostle - a call not granted to others. It was a mysterious call, and not to be explained by mere human reasoning.

Now, why did Christ choose some and not others? Consider even the Twelve. We notice that on various occasions our Lord selected certain ones and not others to enjoy a special association with him. John is called in the Gospel (of John) “the one Jesus loved.” Peter, James and John are seen to be taken aside by our Lord for special time with him. For instance, our Lord took these three with him up the mountain to witness his Transfiguration. He took them with him into the house where he raised the little girl from death. He took them with him to be present during his Agony in the Garden. They are referred to by St Paul as the “pillars” of the infant Church in Jerusalem. So as Apostles, they had a special vocation that differed from other disciples. Within the Apostolic band they also had a special calling that differed from the other Apostles. Why did Christ leave some out? Well, of course, if there are special works to be done in the saving plan of God, then some must be chosen to do them. This necessarily means not choosing others. But there is this to be said. Selecting some does not mean that others are “left out” in a much more important sense. The entire purpose of special callings such as those of the Apostles was in order to bring to all mankind the invitation to a personal friendship with Jesus. It is this which is the fundamental and saving vocation. It is this which is the primary dignity. The Apostle is called to be Christ’s friend - Simon, do you love me? we remember Christ saying - but the humblest disciple is also called to be Christ’s friend. Indeed, the whole world has this calling, and the Church’s mission is to bring this call to all and to make it fruitful. Thus it is that the most obscure of the baptized has the marvellous call to sanctity, just as real a call as that possessed by one of the Twelve. Indeed, such a person can attain a level of sanctity not reached by the one who has received the dignity of Apostle and Priest. St Joseph did. No one is “left out.” Each human being is the object of the special love of God and has received a special call to love and serve him.

The fundamental thing about the Christian religion is the revelation of the love of God for all of mankind and for every single human being. Thus does everyone have an inalienable dignity which under pain of divine judgment must be recognized and respected by others. I am loved by God, each can and should say, and he, God, wants me to love him. As St Paul wrote, Christ loved me, and gave himself up for me. This is the foundation of the universal call to holiness and of the dignity of every man and woman on the face of the earth. No one, no one at all, is “left out.”

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