Wednesday, March 10, 2010

St. Dominic Savio (1842-1857)

So many holy persons seem to die young. Among them was Dominic Savio, the patron of choirboys. Born into a peasant family at Riva, Italy, young Dominic joined St. John Bosco as a student at the Oratory in Turin at the age of 12. He impressed John with his desire to be a priest and to help him in his work with neglected boys. A peacemaker and an organizer, young Dominic founded a group he called the Company of the Immaculate Conception which, besides being devotional, aided John Bosco with the boys and with manual work. All the members save one, Dominic, would in 1859 join John in the beginnings of his Salesian congregation. By that time, Dominic had been called home to heaven. As a youth, Dominic spent hours rapt in prayer. His raptures he called "my distractions." Even in play, he said that at times "It seems heaven is opening just above me. I am afraid I may say or do something that will make the other boys laugh." Dominic would say, "I can't do big things. But I want all I do, even the smallest thing, to be for the greater glory of God." Dominic's health, always frail, led to lung problems and he was sent home to recuperate. As was the custom of the day, he was bled in the thought that this would help, but it only worsened his condition. He died on March 9, 1857, after receiving the Last Sacraments. St. John Bosco himself wrote the account of his life. Some thought that Dominic was too young to be considered a saint. St. Pius X declared that just the opposite was true, and went ahead with his cause. Dominic was canonized in 1954.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (5.17~19)

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever puts into practice and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Act, do!
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Prior to his election as Pope, John Paul II’s primary academic discipline was philosophy, although he had also published in theology and letters (i.e., drama and poetry). Within philosophy he worked within a school of thought that combined Thomism and modern phenomenology, as developed in a special way at the University of Lublin, Poland, where he taught prior to his becoming Archbishop of Crakow. His principal philosophical work, translated into English from the original Polish, was The Acting Person. It stressed the paramount importance of the act, as opposed to, say, mere thought. It is not merely man’s thoughts but his acts that define him and set his course. Indeed, it is his action that manifests his real thought and it is his action that naturally takes him beyond himself in a form of self-transcendence. Man finds himself to be not just a self that thinks but a self that acts in and on the world. One philosophical advantage of this approach is that if the human act rather than mere human thought is the starting point of one’s account of man, then while man’s thought is included in his action, the Cartesian isolation of the thinking self from the world is avoided. Modifying Descartes’ famous first principle that brought so many problems to philosophy, we may say, “I act, therefore I am” — rather than “I think, therefore I am.” Be all this as it may, my point in dwelling upon a philosophy that lays primary stress on human action is that it surely prepares us for our Lord’s own stress on action. It is not just what we think that makes all the difference — although what we think does matter a great deal. But it is what we do about it that will matter so much more. We think of our Lord himself who came not as, say, another Socrates — although, as we remember, his disciples came to see that he knew all things. Socrates the thinker could not, as we might say, hold a candle to him. But, more than anything he came not merely as a master of thought, but as one who did the greatest of works, and at immense cost to himself. The Son of God came among us to act, to take away the sin of the world. He came, he says in today’s Gospel, to fulfil the Law and the Prophets.

And so it is that it is not enough to know and think of the commandments of God. Christ counts as great the man who obeys them and teaches others to obey them. It is action, deeds, obedience, that Christ expects. He wants us to conform our lives to what we know to be right, and this we do not just by thinking about what is right, but by acting on what is right. Cardinal Newman once wrote that the essence of religion lies in authority and obedience. He was countering the liberal and relativistic view of religion which made one’s private judgment and free opinion the fundamental principle. Nevertheless, his statement has a wider relevance. A religion of God’s authority and man’s obedience is one that places the stress on what we do rather than just what we think. “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever puts into practice and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19). This stress on active obedience involving, for instance, a profoundly moral life, is a most notable characteristic of revealed religion. The prophets inveighed against a religion of sacrifices and holocausts while neglecting and indeed violating justice and mercy — and our Lord criticized the scribes and the Pharisees for a similar defect in their religion. He said to his disciples that it is not those who say to me, Lord! Lord! who will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. He contrasted the foolish man with the sensible man. The foolish man, the one who hears the word but fails to do it, has built his house on sand. The sensible man, the one who hears and obeys the will of God, has built his house on rock. He stands, whatever be the rains and the floods. His is a religion that endures because what counts in his life is that he does what God wants of him and not just — say — knows it. He does not neglect the all-important business of action. Every day he rises from his rest in order to act, to do the work, to fulfil the duty that God is asking of him. The saint is the person who does what God expects of him.

Of course, we must understand “action” broadly, which is to say in a sense that includes all of man’s acting. The acting person is the person whose action embraces praying, recreating, and the myriad forms of serving, but who in all his acts is resolved to do whatever is right even at the cost of his life. That is why Jesus Christ is the Man par excellence. He acted and in his acts he did what pleased the Father. Cardinal Newman understood the conscience to be the most distinctive faculty of man’s mind, and what is the conscience? The conscience reveals what a person is called to do. It obliges him to act in a certain way. In God’s plan, the acting person strives to know the will of God and puts it into practice. If we do this, we flourish as human beings and are on the path to glory.

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