I’m beginning a four day retreat for seminarians at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland today. I’ll be speaking to them about American Catholic spirituality as we see it in our saints and other important figures of our church. I’ll use the US Catholic Catechism for Adults as a basis for my talks. One of its features–which I’ve commented on recently– is its insertion of stories of the saints and others into the catechism to illustrate its teachings.
You can’t expect the short biographies in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to tell you everything about these personalities of our church and their impact on our church and our world, but they are a start.
As I see it, writings about the saints has changed in recent times. For one thing, saints are more than people we pray to for some favor or miracle-workers we marvel at. They tell us how to live in this world. They are part of the communion of saints. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)
Recent studies on the saints tend to dwell on the world they lived in and how they helped to shape that world. That’s also our task: to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom that’s coming.
You can’t understand someone like Dorothy Day, for example, without looking at the social history of the United States from the 1930s onward. She reacted to the problems of her time, and so should we.
Recent studies on the saints tend to be less panegyric. Saints are not perfect. Writing on the saints follows the recent trend in biography which tries to tell as much as can be known about figures in the political or social or intellectual or religious worlds, their faults and failures as well as their virtues and accomplishments.
I hope to talk this week about Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, the Jesuit Martyrs, Dorothy Day, Pierre Tousaint, Mother Cabrini and Theodore Foley.
Today’s the end of the retreat for sisters at St. Francis Center for Renewal.
My first observation: thank God for these good religious women. Strong believers, they are the best of our church.
During this week we read from the gospel narratives of the Passion, mostly from St. Matthew; it’s evident as you read how involved women were in the Lord’s Passion then. They still are now. Surely, most of what happened there we know from them.
The last few days we read the Resurrection stories from the various gospels, each offering its own perspective. Women figure prominently in that story too. They’re the first at the tomb and they, not angels, carry the message to those shut up in the Upper Room. “The Lord is risen!” they say. They’re the first believers.
We need to read and reflect on these great stories of our faith and be refreshed by them, for they hold what we believe and mirror our present experience. They probe the great mysteries of life.
We read from an article by Fr.Don Senior from Origins on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which he wrote in response to a TV presentation claiming Jesus’ family tomb had been found with an ossuary containing his bones.
With his usual wide ranging wisdom, Don looks at the implications of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Rising bodily from the tomb, Jesus embraces both our humanity and all creation. He gives new life to all. His bodily resurrection has implications in the way we care for the world, our view of social justice, our understanding of the sacraments and our own relationship to others and to our own bodies.
Most of my homilies for the retreat are summarized in previous blogs.
This week I’m conducting a retreat for the Sisters of Mercy, Lake Placid, NY. Retreats are important, but I’m afraid we’re losing our taste for them. Too busy, perhaps. Or we may want to replace them with short-term and long-term planning.
We’re reading from the Acts of the Apostles this week at Mass and if they tell us anything about the Early Church it’s that it did not evolve through human planning. It evolved by God’s plan. The disciples gave little thought to the long range or short range planning we do today.
They were pretty settled in Jerusalem after Jesus rose from the dead. As good Jews they continued to worship in the temple, where they had occasional squabbles with the Jewish leaders. But they remained in Jerusalem, where Jesus worshipped and preached. It was their world. Besides their ventures into the temple, they met together, probably where the Last Supper was celebrated. There they broke bread and prayed.
They were mostly Galileans at first, I think, then others joined them who came from elsewhere. It was a group that was growing.
Stephen was one of the new-comers. Some say he may have been a Samaritan, which may explain his polemic against the Judaism of the day. The scriptures idealize his presence. But he was the human cause of the first scattering of believers to other places. He was brash and undiplomatic. I’m sure some of the Galileans didn’t like him.
Yes, he was a saint, but a hard-nosed saint.
He brought a change, or better, God did.