Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862 )

Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone. His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (5.43-48)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

(Homily Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Wonder is an important act of the mind and there are things in life we ought wonder about. Plato in his Theaetetus wrote that the origin of philosophy is “wonder” — in the sense of 'puzzlement' or 'perplexity' (155c-d). Aristotle too, sees wonder as the origin of philosophy: “For men were first led to study philosophy, as indeed they are today, by wonder....they took to philosophy to escape ignorance ...” (Metaphysics Book 1,2: 982b). Wonder leads us to consider life and the world more deeply. Consider some of the things one might wonder about, such as the very existence of things. The world exists, but why is there anything at all? We exist — but why is that? In January 2010 a massive earthquake convulses Haiti, and incalculable suffering ensues. There is so much evil and suffering in the world. Why is life and reality such, as to involve so much evil? Extending the point, there are students of animal life who are shocked by the scale of brutality and suffering perpetrated among the species. The relentless pursuit of a small bird by an eagle and its lethal attack on it seems to belie the notion that the world comes from and is sustained by a loving Creator. But now, there is another thing to wonder about. Yes, there is much evil and suffering everywhere, but despite this there is the wonderful fact of love. There are amazing fountains of love everywhere. Haiti falls amid the crash of the earthquake and the world scrambles to help. There is love amid the evil and suffering. Or again, a profoundly handicapped young man is constantly assisted with sensitive attention by his widowed father. This care goes on for years, and is unfailing. Again, an elderly parent is in a nursing home, lost in her mental dementia. She recognizes no one and says nothing. But every day she is attended by her loving son. So, let us wonder at the phenomenon of love! I propose that love is the greatest thing in the world. It is love that must noticed, treasured, admired, protected, cherished and resolutely helped to flourish. Love is absolutely indispensable.

As a matter of fact, it has been revealed to us that love is the heart, the soul, the core and the source of all reality, visible and invisible. Were we able to plunge to the very depths of all that there is, and rest our hand on the very first element from which everything else flows, we would touch love. Evil is not at the heart of things, but love. God, the inspired Scriptures teach us, is love. There is one Creator of all, and he is love. So much is he love that in fact, while he is one in being, he is a communion of three divine persons. God is a loving communion. He is love in his life and in his activity. He creates out of love and leaves his loving imprint on all that he does. Somehow, large and numerous weeds appeared in the field — and an enemy had done it. But love is the start of everything. Love sustains the world, and love will be the final term of the world. The only final evil will be to have turned one’s back on this love — and it is within our power to do so. We come from a loving God and if we live in union with him we shall go to him at the end. There is, then, a momentous choice facing every person. Shall I choose to love, or shall I choose not to? Our Lord is very clear about this. We must strive to become perfect in love, the love that he manifested and which, by the sacrifice of his life, he made possible for us. He has won for us the grace to grow mightily in love. “Be perfect” he says in today’s Gospel, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We must strive to imitate God our loving Father, loving even those who inflict suffering and evil upon us. Evil comes, suffering comes, and this evil and suffering all too often has its origins in evil human hearts. But our response must be that of love. Love is the most beautiful fact of the world, and we must have it flourish. “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5: 43-48). Love is the imperative project of every man and woman.

Amid all the din of suffering and evil in the world, and amid the numerous instances of love that are present amid this evil, there is something most beautiful that appears aloft amid the haze. It is the Crucified One, hanging from the nails driven into Him by the sin of the world. He hangs there because of His Love, and that love has broken the power of sin. By the grace His sacrifice won for us we must aim to become like Him. This means aiming for the holiness that is the love of God. God is love and our true life consists in sharing in God’s life of love. This we do by loving and following Jesus Christ, Son of God and Redeemer of man.

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