Monday, February 15, 2010

St. Claude la Colombière (1641-1682)

This is a special day for the Jesuits, who claim today’s saint as one of their own. It’s also a special day for people who have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus—a devotion Claude la Colombière promoted, along with his friend and spiritual companion, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The emphasis on God’s love for all was an antidote to the rigorous moralism of the Jansenists, who were popular at the time. Claude showed remarkable preaching skills long before his ordination in 1675. Two months later he was made superior of a small Jesuit residence in Burgundy. It was there he first encountered Margaret Mary Alacoque. For many years after he served as her confessor. He was next sent to England to serve as confessor to the Duchess of York. He preached by both words and by the example of his holy life, converting a number of Protestants. Tensions arose against Catholics and Claude, rumored to be part of a plot against the king, was imprisoned. He was ultimately banished, but by then his health had been ruined. He died in 1682. Pope John Paul the Second canonized Claude la Colombière in 1992.

A reflection for for the first reading from the Epistle of St. James the Apostle (1.1~11)

"My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege; you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully developed, complete, with nothing missing. If there is any one of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given to him." (James 1: 1-4)

Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Famous anthropologist (Evans-Pritchard) wrote that a key to the understanding of a religion is its answer to the problem of suffering. Buddha sought an answer to suffering by seeking a way to escape it. But by his suffering and death Christ has made human suffering itself a source of inestimable blessings. It was precisely through his Passion and Death that the world was redeemed. If, when suffering, we unite ourselves with Christ in his suffering (especially in the Eucharistic sacrifice), our sufferings are transformed into a source of blessings for our own sanctification and that of others. Because of Christ, suffering is now not simply a negative. Thus it is that those most united to Christ (the saints), while spending themselves in lessening the sufferings of others, in imitation of Christ readily embrace suffering themselves.

The passage from St James 1: 2-4 (above) makes reference to this. He tells us that "you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege". This is the language of great optimism and meaning in the face of suffering. To suffer is “a happy privilege.” We can only look at it this way if we suffer in union with Christ. Suffering is an opportunity, a privilege, because it involves a association with Christ. Further, it will bring with it the chance of true spiritual maturity: as St James writes, it will "have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing." (James 1: 4)

Let us pray to the Lord for wisdom (as St James goes on to advise in verse 5), especially the wisdom to know how to suffer with Christ. It is "a happy privilege."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (8:11-13)

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it." Then He left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

Prayer of petition
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel scene today shows us the Pharisees approaching Jesus to present a request. Our Lord refused. It is a dramatic qualification of the assurance that our Lord gave on another occasion, that our requests to him in prayer would be met. Ask and you will receive, he said. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. The man who asks always receives. If you who are evil know how to give good things, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. These words of Christ assure us that God is pleased that we turn to him in our need, and it urges us to expect that our requests will be heard because he is our loving and all-powerful Father. But of course, the prayer of petition is not magic. It is not a formula which in the mere using has its effect, unlocking a course of events because of its secret, inherent power. Most especially, prayer is a personal encounter between the creature and the Creator, and if that encounter is to be authentic then it necessarily assumes a certain attitude on the part of the creature. It assumes a true dependence, a true acknowledgment, a humble and loving recognition that God is God. If this is not at all present, then requests presented to God will disappear into the void. The result will be silence in the heavens, and at times a stern rebuke. So it is that, as we read, “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it. Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side” (Mark 8: 11-13). On other occasions our Lord was presented with requests which brought silence from him. During his Passion Pilate sent him to Herod. Herod was delighted because he had heard much of our Lord, and regarded this as an opportunity to see the wonder-worker in action. So he asked our Lord to work a miracle before him. Christ did speak, with sovereign respect, to Pilate. But with Herod he said and did nothing.

There is also this to be noticed — and on reflection, the point ought be fairly obvious. At times even those who loved our Lord and who were virtuous did not necessarily have their requests to him met. To take a minor example, when our Lord presented himself to John the Baptist for his baptism of repentance, we read that John tried to stop him. It is I who should be baptized by you, John said to Jesus. His implicit request was that Jesus not present himself to him for baptism. But to that request our Lord did not accede. Though sinless he insisted on being baptized, thus manifesting his solidarity with sinful man. We read that on one occasion during his public ministry our Lord was welcomed into the home of his good friends, Martha and Mary — the sisters of Lazarus whom he would raise from the dead. During that visit Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him speaking. Martha, wearied with the serving and irritated at her sister doing nothing to help her, approached our Lord and asked that he tell her sister to get up and give a hand. Our Lord refused her request. Martha, Martha, he said. You are fretting about various things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It will not be taken from her. I like to imagine our Lord smiling at Martha as he said it. Martha loved our Lord and was virtuous — and we celebrate Saint Martha’s feast day every year. Her request was not met. On another occasion our Lord was on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples and was about to pass through a Samaritan village. The Samaritans would not admit them because they were on their way to Jerusalem. James and John, full of indignation, asked our Lord to let them call down fire from heaven on them. Our Lord rebuked them for this request. One might say that requests such as these would naturally be refused, but the point being made is that we ought present our petitions before God, understanding that God is able to judge the wisdom of our request. What God can see may be hidden from us. We ought strive to ask God for what he most wants to give us.

In our Gospel today the Pharisees approach our Lord with a request — they asked him to perform a sign before them that would convince them of the truth of his claims. They were refused. Their hearts were not submissive to God and so the response to their request was silence and a rebuke. Let us in all our needs humbly go to God our Father, asking with persistence that he answer our petitions, all the while being utterly submissive to his holy will.

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