October 8th is the feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans. A biographer mentions something about him that’s true of all the saints, I think. It’s one of the signs of holiness– Saints look redeemed. Dominic had a joyful face, which came from a joyful heart and a soul at peace. He believed God was with him.
“He was a man of great equanimity, except when moved to compassion and mercy. And since a joyful heart animates the face, he displayed the peaceful composure of a spiritual man in the kindness he manifested outwardly and by the cheerfulness of his countenance.”
That same “cheerfulness of countenance” seems to be what people remark about Pope Francis. That doesn’t mean you have to smile continuously, but joy is our “default,” it’s the attitude usually there. Fra Angelico seems to capture the peacefulness of Dominic in his portrait of the saint. (above)
One of the critics of Christianity, I think it was the 19th century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said he didn’t think Christians looked redeemed. In other words, they were sad-sacks: dour, worried, self-engaged people.
Might be a good test to look in a mirror and ask myself: “Do I look redeemed?” But another question–why do artists often make saints look so sad? They’re not.
Saints from the past still speak to our time, I think. By their simple words they still proclaim the Word. Here’s Macarius, a monk from 4th century Egypt, telling us why God sent Jesus, his Son, into a world that had become a desert, an empty house, an unused path. One reason monks like him preferred to live in the desert was their belief that a redeeming God could make a desert flower again.
“When a farmer prepares to till the soil he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So Christ, our heavenly king, came to till the soil of humanity devastated by sin. He assumed a body and, using the cross as his ploughshare, cultivated the barren human soul. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had ploughed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit, that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”
Artists, like the one who painted Macarius (above), clothed the desert monks in the finest, brightest clothes, though in real life they were surely quite shabbily dressed. Because they were God’s redeemed they were robed in fine cloths, no matter how their neighbors saw them. They walked in a “lovely garden of the Spirit that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”
They were signs of a redeemed world.
Edward Kennedy’s funeral Mass took place the other day at Mission Church in Boston. It’s actually a church honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help and is staffed by the Redemptorists.
Reports in the media say that the senator and his wife went there to “reflect” and look for healing. The media has trouble saying the word “pray.”
Not much was said about the long-standing devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help that has its center in that church, or that the Redemptorists, as their name indicates, are dedicated to the mystery of Redemption.
This is the prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help that most people who frequent that church would be aware of:
“See at your feet, O Mother of Perpetual Help, a poor sinner who has recourse to you and confides in you. O Mother of Mercy, have pity on me! I hear you called the refuge and the hope of sinners; be my refuge and my hope.
Help me, for the love of Jesus Christ; stretch forth your hand to a poor fallen sinner. I devote myself to your devotion and ask that you remember my needs (here make your request).
I bless and thank Almighty God, who in His mercy has given me the grace to seek eternal salvation in your holy name.
Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that we may be delivered through the help of your intercession, from the slavery of all our sins.