Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Leander of Seville (c. 550-600)

The next time you recite the Nicene Creed at Mass, think of today’s saint. For it was Leander of Seville who, as bishop, introduced the practice in the sixth century. He saw it as a way to help reinforce the faith of his people and as an antidote against the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. By the end of his life, Leander had helped Christianity flourish in Spain at a time of political and religious upheaval. Leander’s own family was heavily influenced by Arianism, but he himself grew up to be a fervent Christian. He entered a monastery as a young man and spent three years in prayer and study. At the end of that tranquil period he was made a bishop. For the rest of his life he worked strenuously to fight against heresy. The death of the anti-Christian king in 586 helped Leander’s cause. He and the new king worked hand in hand to restore orthodoxy and a renewed sense of morality. Leander succeeded in persuading many Arian bishops to change their loyalties.

Leander died around 600. In Spain he is honoured as a Doctor of the Church.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (18.9~14)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men— robbers, evildoers, adulterers— or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke: 18: 9-14)

Authentic religion
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are some fundamental human activities which all men and women find themselves engaged in. Man must work in order to eat and to pursue his interests. Of course, he finds himself reflecting on things, and making choices — some of which are momentous and have far-reaching consequences. So the list could go on. Man also finds himself being religious, or tending to be religious, or taking to religion when it is presented to him as he grows. He is drawn into the religious life of his family and his community. As a result of his power of reflection and choice he may abandon the religion of his upbringing and forego religion or adopt another. I think we could say that, looking at the matter anthropologically and sociologically, religion is one of the most common of human activities. So pervasive is it in traditional societies that, as has often been observed when setting man in the context of other living and conscious beings, man could be described as a religious being. Yes, of course he works in order to eat and do other things. Of course he reflects and chooses. But equally notable is the abundant manifestations of his religious life. But what is the essential activity of religion? What is it to be religious, authentically religious, and indeed profoundly religious? Of course, all understand that the religious person is the one who acknowledges God as the living Master of his life, however God may be conceived and imagined. A person who through ignorance, neglect or deliberate choice did not recognize God (or the gods) in this way, would never be described as religious, except in some analogous sense. That having been granted, could we make this more explicit and identify an inner attitude, informing one’s recognition of God, which marks the authentically religious person? Putting it slightly differently, is there something the religious person, the one who recognizes God as Master, should especially attempt to develop in his attitude before God? In our Lord’s day (as in every day) there were persons who were professionally religious and who led the people in their religion. But many of them were not especially religious at all.

It is very fortunate that our Lord’s teaching was commonly given in images rather than in, as with Aristotle, abstract discourse. Our Lord’s teaching was meant for the world — including all the Aristotles — and so he spoke in the pictorial language of mankind. In our Gospel today (Luke: 18: 9-14) our Lord tells his well-known parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and he turns firstly to the Pharisee. The Pharisee was the religious person — in the view of society. Our Lord did not discount the role of the scribes and the Pharisees, and on one occasion he directed that his hearers do what they say while avoiding their example. They occupied the chair of Moses. They were legitimate religious teachers and they sustained to a greater or lesser extent the religious life of the nation. So, in his parable our Lord describes the Pharisee — and he is devastating in his description of the inner character of their religion. The prayer of the Pharisee was thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men— robbers, evildoers, adulterers— or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Essentially, he exalted himself. The properly religious person exalts God, but the Pharisee in the parable exalted himself, before God and before others. So there we have from the lips of our Lord himself one thing which the religious person absolutely must not do. He must avoid self-exaltation like the plague. This self-exaltation can even be very secret, seen by God himself. By contrast, the Tax Collector stood far back, perhaps in the shadows of the Temple where he would be scarcely be seen. He had nothing to show before the gaze of men. But, most especially, he had nothing to show before the gaze of God, and he knew it. “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'” Now, Cardinal John Henry Newman, a leading religious mind of the nineteenth century, claimed that this expressed the essence of authentic religion. The plain and manifest fact is that we are sinners, and he, Newman, maintained that even natural, fallen man knows or should know this. We are sinners and our most authentic act in religion is to acknowledge our sinfulness before God and to ask his forgiveness.

Our Lord’s sums up the effect of each prayer, and states that the Pharisee was left separated from God and still in sin, whereas the sinful Tax Collector was left reconciled with God. “ I tell you that this man,” our Lord concludes, “rather than the other, went home justified before God.” What we must do, whether we are called to occupy a lowly and hidden place in the world or a prominent place that draws the esteem of others, is to be like the Tax Collector in our inner religion. Our heart must be steeped in humility and contrition before God. This is what it means to be authentically religious. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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