Saturday, February 13, 2010

St. Giles Mary of St. Joseph (1729-1812)

In the same year that a power-hungry Napoleon Bonaparte led his army into Russia, Giles Mary of St. Joseph ended a life of humble service to his Franciscan community and to the citizens of Naples. Francesco was born in Taranto to very poor parents. His father’s death left the 18-year-old Francesco to care for the family. Having secured their future, he entered the Friars Minor at Galatone in 1754. For 53 years he served at St. Paschal’s Hospice in Naples in various roles, such as cook, porter or most often as official beggar for that community. “Love God, love God” was his characteristic phrase as he gathered food for the friars and shared some of his bounty with the poor—all the while consoling the troubled and urging everyone to repent. The charity which he reflected on the streets of Naples was born in prayer and nurtured in the common life of the friars. The people whom Giles met on his begging rounds nicknamed him the “Consoler of Naples.” He was canonized in 1996. In his homily at the canonization of Giles, Pope John Paul II said that the spiritual journey of Giles reflected “the humility of the Incarnation and the gratuitousness of the Eucharist” (L'Osservatore Romano 1996, volume 23, number 1).

A reflection on the first reading 1 Kings (12: 26-32; 13: 33-34)
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Serving God Consider the story of Jeroboam as narrated in the Old Testament reading for today from the first book of Kings. Solomon's kingdom had split asunder, and Jeroboam was king of the northern half, Israel. He flagrantly led his people to worship false gods for personal self-interest: "You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" What a terrible thing it is to lead a person, let alone many persons, astray from the truth that God has revealed. We can surely think of so many cases in the history of the Church in which people of influence have led people astray from revealed truth as the Church teaches and transmits it. Jeroboam can be regarded as a type of this.

This is not just something involving people of wide influence due to personal gifts or position in society or the Church. It involves all of us no matter how small we might be by comparison. All of us have some influence on others, and God will hold us accountable for how we use this influence. And there is this: while we must take care lest we influence others adversely, we can fail seriously by not striving positively to be a good influence. There is the old saying that evil flourishes when good people do nothing. God will hold us accountable for failing to be active in doing good and in furthering the interests of God and Christ. The whole Church, including its overwhelming component of lay faithful, is called by God to be a positive Christ-like influence on the world. They have received a share in his mission, and the calling to be apostolic.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (8:1-10)
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with Me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance." His disciples answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them? How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven", they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When He had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; He gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterwards the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, He got into the boat with His disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

He is the Answer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There is something our Lord says in our Gospel passage today that prompts reflection. “I have compassion on these people” he says. “If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way.” It reminds us of the burdens and afflictions weighing on man. That is to say, it reminds us of the Original Fall. In about 2003 a reporter by the name of Margaret Wertheim had a conversation with Father George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory. She asked him whether he thought there was intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The priest suggested that "each star is fired with a propensity for life, but there is no reason to think any of them have achieved this." Perhaps, he thought, out there is nothing but vast clouds of gas and billions of nuclear fireballs that never reach a biological threshold. But, he continued, perhaps that threshold has been reached and somewhere in the void of cosmological space there are others looking out for us. In May of 2008, Father Coyne’s successor as director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, wrote that were persons to exist elsewhere in the universe, they may not have undergone an Original Fall from grace. St Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans, sin entered the world through one man and with the entry of sin, death spread to all. If there were not to have been an Original Sin in a race other than our own, the question arises in our minds about the sense in which “death” and its ramifications would be present among them. The question concerns the condition of life in a race where there had not been an Original Fall — though, of course, there presumably would have been personal sin subsequent to the origins. It is a purely theoretical question but is one that has the practical effect of helping us appreciate again the impact of the Fall of man. To imagine a race that did not experience an Original Fall helps us to appreciate the catastrophe of Original Sin in our vast human family, and the prodigious character of Christ’s work of taking away the sin of the world. The sufferings that afflict our race have ultimately come from the Original Fall.

I suggest that thoughts such as these can be prompted by our contemplating our Lord’s concern for the people. They were hungry and if they were sent away, they could collapse on the way. It is a small detail, but it represents in its own way the common human condition subject to death, sufferings and evils. Our life is radically precarious and vulnerable to countless threats from without and from within. After a few days of miscalculation, a person — a whole group of persons — can be threatened with starvation. If it is not starvation, it might be thirst. If it is not the lack of food and drink which threatens life, it could be hostile attacks from other men. It might be something entirely interior which threatens life — such as a simple heart attack. These are threats to life, but there are also countless threats to happiness and well-being. Why does life have to be like this? Why does man not possess full happiness and full flourishing here on earth? Why is he liable to “collapse on the way”? Mysteriously, it was because of the Original Fall of man that sin entered the world, and with sin came death, and death has spread to the whole human race. Because of this great fact, man cries out to the great God — however he imagines him — and asks for succour. Thus does religion pervade the cultures and societies of man. But where is the answer to this great and persistent cry? Man lives on hope, but in fact more than hope is possible. God has intervened and come to dwell among us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. His glory was seen, the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He came to take away the Curse and by means of his body the Church, to bring that blessing to all. All of this is surely symbolized by our Lord’s action in today’s Gospel. “How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked. Seven, they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied” (Mark 8:1-10).

This action of Christ in feeding the multitudes and sustaining them in their need is a portent of the far greater action of his feeding the nations with his own body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. This food brings life everlasting. It is the ultimate answer here on earth to man’s radical vulnerability and proneness to death. In the Eucharist, the Fall has received its antidote. The full effects of this antidote will be seen in life everlasting, but that life everlasting begins here and now when the antidote is received. Let us then understand well that life can be ours, life everlasting.

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