Thursday, February 10, 2011

SUNDAY 6A: The "Higher Righteousness" - Today's Memorial, St. Scholastica - Transitions & Visits

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "A") - February 13, 2011 JESUS REDEFINES GOD'S WILL FOR DISCIPLES [Texts: Sirach 15:15-20; [Psalm 119]; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37]

In the long gospel passage read at today's Mass, Jesus reaffirmed several of the Ten Commandments (against murder, adultery, swearing falsely). Then, He extended their range to the deepest recesses of the human heart (`you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times "You shall not murder"..., but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment").

With Jesus' ruling that every form of hostility lies outside the boundaries of God's Kingdom, reconciliation becomes a priority whenever anger arises among His disciples. "When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."

The vision of Jesus (that one not insult a brother or sister or address them as "You fool!") is to guide disciples in their daily life. But when the ideal is not realized, action may be taken to undo the harm, to effect reconciliation.

When He equated anger with murder and demanded that His disciples display a reconciling mindset and have peaceful relations with everyone, Jesus was being provocative. This is clear from the regular antithetical pattern in which He couched His teaching ("You have heard it said..., but I say..."). Not only would people be unlikely to forget His teaching, they would ask about His identity: Who can make such demands?

Jesus was saying that to live one's life in strict accord with legal prescriptions was not enough. In declaring that God asks for a radical obedience from those who would be members of the Kingdom, Jesus made it clear that He saw Himself speaking with divine authority, redefining God's will for His disciples.

The provocative nature of Jesus speech is also found in sayings such as the one to gouge out one's eye or cut off one's hand or foot, should this bodily member be the occasion of sinning. In reading such statements today, we should realize that Jesus' audience would have recognized them as metaphoric speech, that He was not suggesting that one literally remove an offending body part. These sayings challenge disciples to examine the quality of their discipleship.

In a particular instance--the matter of swearing oaths--Jesus abrogated former practices in favour of a mode of speech that is radically, unconditionally truthful. `You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times "You shall not swear falsely..., but I say to you: Do not swear at all.... Let your word be 'Yes' if 'Yes' or 'No' if 'No'; anything else comes from the evil one."

Jesus abolished the distinction between words that must be true (supported by an oath) and those that need not be true (those not supported by an oath). He did away with the distinction between words one must be prepared to stand behind and those one need not stand up for. All speech must be truthful.

In His closing words within this series of contrasts--they will not heard this year because Lent begins this coming week--Jesus called for a love that does not retaliate ("You have heard it said 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.... Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you"), and for a love that extends even to one's enemies ("love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you").

The whole of Jesus' instruction, set in a series of antitheses, serves two truths set out in the opening verses:

The first is, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil." God's plan, testified to in the scriptures, pointed to God's definitive act in the messianic future. This Jesus provides.

The second is, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven". This "higher righteousness" is found in the teaching of Jesus and in the lives of His followers.

* * * * * *

St. Scholastica, Twin Sister of St. Benedict

As an historical personage, St. Scholastica's life is not well documented. As St. Benedict's twin, we know that Scholastica was born about 480 AD in the mountains of the Italian district of Nursia, about 75 miles north of Rome.

She died in 547, the same year as Benedict, and she is usually depicted with a dove, recalling the extraordinary miracle her brother experienced at the time of her passing.

Like St. Benedict, the earliest reference to her is in St. Gregory the Great's "Dialogues", the hagiographical account St. Benedict's life. In the work, St. Gregory notes vaguely that Scholastica was dedicated to “the Lord Almighty” from her infancy.

Beyond this we know nothing about how Scholastica spent her life, except that she apparently followed in the footsteps of her brother, entering monastic life and eventually coming to live at the monastery of nuns at Piumarola, near St. Benedict's Monte Cassino. However, at least one delightful story about the saint's life survives, and this also from the pen of St. Gregory.

It seems to have been St. Scholastica's custom, while at Piumarola, to meet with her brother once a year, in a house that was near Benedict's monastery. During one of these meetings, as the evening drew on, St. Benedict prepared to return to the monastic enclosure, since it was his rule not to pass the night away from there.

St. Scholastica pleaded with him not to go, but, unable to convince him, she lowered her head and folded her hands in prayer. Her earnest petition to God resulted in a violent thunderstorm, which prevented Benedict's departure. "Sister!" Benedict exclaimed, "What have you done?" Scholastica calmly responded, "I asked you and you wouldn't listen to me. I asked my Lord and he listened. Go now, if you can."

Unable to leave, St. Benedict remained with his sister, passing the whole night in "vigil" and "holy talk on the spiritual life." The interpretation of this story is supplied by St. Gregory: "It is no surprise that the woman who wished to see her brother for a longer time was on this occasion stronger than he . . . she was able to do more because she loved more."

Thus, St. Scholastica is taken as a model of great love and single-hearted devotion to God. And Benedict, in turn, was greatly devoted to Scholastica. At the time of her death, which occurred just three days after their fateful meeting, St. Benedict witnessed her soul ascending into heaven in the form of a dove. Sending his monks to bring her body, St. Benedict had it placed in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Again, Gregory comments: "In this way it happened that those two whose minds were always united in God were not separated in body by the grave."

* * * * * *

In recent weeks, several transitions among, and visits by, clergy and seminarians have come to my attention through shared activities; here are some photographic accounts of these: 

Father Joseph Escribano (right) joins Father Paul Cormier in the Opus Dei ministry in the Archdiocese

Fr. Vernon Boyd feted by his Jesuit community in Ottawa as he prepares to serve in Guelph, ON

Fathers Roberto Donato (left) and Dariusz Miskowicz, visiting from the Halifax Archdiocese

Franciscans of Halifax Brothers Pio (left) and Paul, here to study at Dominican University College

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