Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti (1585-1640)

Hyacintha accepted God’s standards somewhat late in life. Born of a noble family near Viterbo, she entered a local convent of sisters who followed the Third Order Rule. However, she supplied herself with enough food, clothing and other goods to live a very comfortable life amid these sisters pledged to mortification. A serious illness required that Hyacintha’s confessor bring Holy Communion to her room. Scandalized on seeing how soft a life she had provided for herself, the confessor advised her to live more humbly. Hyacintha disposed of her fine clothes and special foods. She eventually became very penitential in food and clothing; she was ready to do the most humble work in the convent. She developed a special devotion to the sufferings of Christ and by her penances became an inspiration to the sisters in her convent. She was canonized in 1807.
How differently might Hyacintha’s life have ended if her confessor had been afraid to question her pursuit of a soft life! Or what if she had refused to accept any challenge to her comfortable pattern of life? Francis of Assisi expected give and take in fraternal correction among his followers. Humility is required both of the one giving it and of the one receiving the correction; their roles could easily be reversed in the future. Such correction is really an act of charity and should be viewed that way by all concerned. Francis told his friars: "Blessed is the servant who would accept correction, accusation, and blame from another as patiently as he would from himself. Blessed is the servant who when he is rebuked quietly agrees, respectfully submits, humbly admits his fault, and willingly makes amends" (Admonition XXII).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:35-41)

That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, Let us go over to the other side. Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, Teacher, don't you care if we drown? He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!

Answering our prayer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

A notable feature of many of the religions of man is myth. Myth — rather than philosophical reason — is dominant. Further, the mythical deities of many of the religions appear very arbitrary. In the myths, they do what they like, often to the point of appearing lawless. In this, perhaps they project the pining of man who sees in them a state that overcomes the stony oppression of so much of life. By contrast, the one true God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses and the prophets, and then fully and definitively in Jesus Christ, is not arbitrary. He is good, and he requires goodness. Be holy, he commanded, for I am holy. God commands that we do what is objectively good, and that we avoid what is objectively evil. As opposed to so many of the gods, the one true God consistently binds himself to what is objectively good, which, of course, has its foundation in his own nature. The point I am making is that God, in being absolutely supreme and almighty, is not arbitrary. He does not do things simply because “he wants to.” He acts with consistency. That said, let our gaze turn again to Jesus, the almighty Son of the Father, asleep on a cushion in the buffeted boat. It is a powerful image of the Incarnation, of God becoming thoroughly man by taking to himself a human nature. In that incarnate setting, though he is God, he subjects himself to his human condition. He is overcome by sleep because of an exhaustion far greater than that of his disciples, for he had worked far harder than they. The pounding storm could not awake him. This respect for the condition he assumed — as exemplified in his exhaustion and sleep — let us take to be an image of God’s respect for the laws of the world he sustains. He acts as Creator and Father of us all in ways that are not arbitrary. He is not one of the gods of the religions, doing this and doing that in accord with his whims or in response to a range of pressures applied to him by mortals. He is sovereign, consistent, and respectful of his own plan and of what is right and good. This ought be kept in mind in our prayer before God.

In our Gospel passage today (Mark 4: 35-41) the disciples are terrified at the fury of the storm, and see that they are in imminent danger of going down. They vigorously wake our Lord and force his attention to their plight. Notice that they do not ask him to quell the storm — their amazement at his doing this, suggests that this had not occurred to them as being possible. They were rousing our Lord in desperation, not sure what there was to be done, but appealing to him nevertheless. Then in response to their appeal, the great miracle occurred. Now, the two stages of our Gospel scene of the boat can each be taken as symbolic of the ways of God. There is Christ asleep on the cushion, and there is Christ commanding the storm. The spectacular miracle is clearly an exception to the divine ways, while Christ in repose may be taken as typical of his ordinary ways. God normally acts in accord with the laws of the world he sustains. This pattern has implications for our prayers to him. God can and occasionally does act miraculously, suspending the laws he himself has instituted, and our Gospel scene gives an instance of this. However, God can also answer our prayers through the ordinary laws of the world. Let me give an example. I knew a person who was driving along a freeway and his mind was distracted. His foot inadvertently pressed on the accelerator and he exceeded the speed limit in an area where there were traffic cameras. Just before he reached a camera, there suddenly came to him the awareness that he was speeding. He pressed on his brake and thus avoided the camera. He was convinced that he had been helped from above to avoid a serious traffic penalty. But there was no “miracle.” He had been helped by God in and through the normal processes of thought. Then again, if we pray for some request and it is not immediately granted, we must keep up our prayers because God may be biding his time for the right moment. A tiny push by him within normal processes of life could grant to us what we are praying for. I suspect that this is the way God normally works. He extends a favourable situation, or gives some tiny factor a nudge.

Let the image of the sleeping Christ remind us that God normally acts within ordinary processes. He can easily answer our prayers in a miraculous fashion, if it serves his plan for us and for his glory. Thus we see Christ standing in the boat and commanding the wind and the sea to be calm. But usually he works in accord with the ordinary processes of the world he sustains. God is our Creator and loving Father, and he answers our prayers even if it is not usually by a miracle. He is not an arbitrary God. Christ says to us, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Pray always, he says elsewhere, and never lose heart. Let us never give up on him, then, and turn to him in all our needs.

A second reflection on the Gospel:

“With the coming of evening that same day, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat, and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.” (Mark 4: 35-41)

God present in suffering There can be a tendency in persons with a conscience, and so with a sense of personal sinfulness, to think that if things go wrong, it is their fault and that perhaps they are being punished. In our Gospel scene, the plight of our Lord’s disciples was very great: they were almost swamped. But notice why they were in this situation. It was because our Lord himself had asked them to go across the lake. They had been doing what God wanted them to do, and this was why they were in this frightening peril. They were suffering because they were doing Christ's will. Moreover, many benefits flowed from their being in this peril. They were led to appeal to Jesus, and seeing his power in response to their petition, they came to know our Lord better than before.

When suffering or some evil persists, persons can imagine that they are abandoned by God, and that God does not care. Conversely, a person who is suffering or in some peril can wonder why they are suffering if in fact they are not at fault. In our Gospel scene, the disciples felt abandoned (‘Master, do you not care?’). But they were not abandoned, for though our Lord was asleep he was there. He rebuked them for their lack of faith. So despite appearances, they were indeed in his care. Jesus was silent, but present.

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