Thursday, March 11, 2010

St. John Ogilvie (c. 1579-1615)

John Ogilvie's noble Scottish family was partly Catholic and partly Presbyterian. His father raised him as a Calvinist, sending him to the continent to be educated. There John became interested in the popular debates going on between Catholic and Calvinist scholars. Confused by the arguments of Catholic scholars whom he sought out, he turned to Scripture. Two texts particularly struck him: "God wills all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth," and "Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you." Slowly, John came to see that the Catholic Church could embrace all kinds of people. Among these, he noted, were many martyrs. He decided to become Catholic and was received into the Church at Louvain, Belgium, in 1596 at the age of 17. John continued his studies, first with the Benedictines, then as a student at the Jesuit College at Olmutz. He joined the Jesuits and for the next 10 years underwent their rigorous intellectual and spiritual training. Ordained a priest in France in 1610, he met two Jesuits who had just returned from Scotland after suffering arrest and imprisonment. They saw little hope for any successful work there in view of the tightening of the penal laws. But a fire had been lit within John. For the next two and a half years he pleaded to be missioned there. Sent by his superiors, he secretly entered Scotland posing as a horse trader or a soldier returning from the wars in Europe. Unable to do significant work among the relatively few Catholics in Scotland, John made his way back to Paris to consult his superiors. Rebuked for having left his assignment in Scotland, he was sent back. He warmed to the task before him and had some success in making converts and in secretly serving Scottish Catholics. But he was soon betrayed, arrested and brought before the court. His trial dragged on until he had been without food for 26 hours. He was imprisoned and deprived of sleep. For eight days and nights he was dragged around, prodded with sharp sticks, his hair pulled out. Still, he refused to reveal the names of Catholics or to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the king in spiritual affairs. He underwent a second and third trial but held firm. At his final trial he assured his judges: "In all that concerns the king, I will be slavishly obedient; if any attack his temporal power, I will shed my last drop of blood for him. But in the things of spiritual jurisdiction which a king unjustly seizes I cannot and must not obey." Condemned to death as a traitor, he was faithful to the end, even when on the scaffold he was offered his freedom and a fine living if he would deny his faith. His courage in prison and in his martyrdom was reported throughout Scotland. John Ogilvie was canonized in 1976, becoming the first Scottish saint since 1250.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ accordinng to Saint Luke (11.14~23)

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters."

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Imagine that you are among a small party of astronauts who have docked in at the space station, on the way to a moon landing. You look out at planet earth and see the marvel of its contours and composition. You advert to the fact that it is just a possibility that no other planet in all of the vast universe is so constructed as to support the extraordinary range of life that teems on planet earth. Earth abounds with innumerable forms of life on land, in the sea and in the air. Planet earth is astonishingly varied, and all is supported by an extraordinary set of circumstances that continue age after age. These circumstances themselves depend directly or indirectly on the rest of the universe. One great mishap could convulse everything. Imagine the effect of three vast meteors colliding with the earth! Your eyes now roam from the earth to the moon, and then on to Mars and the other planets in your galaxy, and then on to other galaxies. Your imagination attempts to envisage the scarcely calculated limits of the universe, and the marvel of the one only God strikes your mind yet again. All this sea of visible things is sustained by the touch of his finger. Were that touch to be withdrawn, all would be reduced instantly to nought. Though the universe is commonly thought to be simply “there” — a vast object of unending research that never seems to raise the mind to a Beyond — it is not simply “there.” It is the work of the great God and he continues in his mercy to do this work of creation. By doing this he sustains the apple of his eye, man — man who is made in his image and likeness. But even the religious person whose faith is alive and active, as he looks out on the universe, can forget an even more vast and extraordinary world. I am referring to the unseen world, the world of God, and the souls and spirits both good and bad, created by him. There is a world which no man can see. It consists of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also consists of the souls of all those who have died, and how many millions must they be — a population numerous times that of present planet earth. It also consists of the angels and the demons. This entire unseen realm is sustained by God.

Of course, we have no idea of the number of spirits there are — and by “spirits” I refer to those of the angelic world, the world of angels and demons. Our Lord, the Son of the living God, often refers to them both. St Thomas Aquinas points out that each angelic being is its own distinct species. It would be regarded as a natural catastrophe if it were discovered that an entire species of plant, bird, insect, or animal were down to one individual in that species. Numerous species are now extinct. Well, each angelic spirit is its own distinct species, and being spiritual, has an immortal nature. How spectacular must be the variety of the angelic world, then! An angel, sustained by the hand of God, is by nature immortal. The numbers of angels too would be breathtaking. Our Lord said in the Garden of Gethsemane, that at his word the Father would send twelve legions of angels to defend him. Again, how many guardian angels must there be! In our Gospel today (Luke 11:14-23) our Lord refers to the kingdom of Satan: “If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” our Lord asks his accusers. So there is a kingdom of demons. He implies that there are two kingdoms in the unseen world, each standing one against the other. There is the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and our Lord by his death broke the power of the kingdom of Satan. The point I am making is that however enthralled we might be with the world which is our home, our responsibility and our challenge, let us, children of a very secular age, never forget the invisible, supernatural world. We tend to regard the demonic either as a joke, or as a terrible force that is simply beyond us. It is no joke — our Lord did not joke about Satan as if he were just a mischievous fairy. He is the master demon of the underworld, and the images of the evil forces in Tolstein’s Lord of the Rings may help us envisage his world. He is no joke, but nor is his strength beyond our resources — provided we take our stand with Christ. The Gospels portray Christ effortlessly putting to flight the demons in possession of people. The case of their master-stroke, Christ’s Passion and Death, was all part of the plan of God. By submitting to his apparent defeat, Christ won the victory. It was all according to the divine plan.

Bearing on the world that we see is another world, unseen, supernatural. It is populated by our friends and our enemies. Our friends are the stronger far, and the Friend par excellence is the Lord God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son of God became man to put to flight the evil kingdom, and the victory is already won. In the life of Saint Thomas More, the Lord chancellor of England under Henry VIII, there came a great moment. He declared at that moment that “the field is won.” He had conquered his fears, and he went on to martyrdom. In Christ, the field is won. Satan has been vanquished. His kingdom will not stand. Let us take our stand with Jesus Christ, then!

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