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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No Rest For The Consecrated


The Dominicans pride themselves on many things, and quite rightly so. Among their shining lights are two long-lived friars who have distinguished their orders by holiness and longevity.  One of these friars must surely hold the record for consecrated life. Blessed John Licci was, I believe, almost a century in vows, dying at the age of 111 - that beats St Antony the Abbot who only lived 105 years, although he doesn't quite beat St Paul the hermit who died at the age of 115.  St Paul was 22 when he went into the desert, so he lived the consecrated life for 93 years or so. St Antony was 18 when he left all for the life of solitude, so his religious life lasted 87 years. Blessed John Licci, however, was 96 years in religious life, entering the Order of Preachers at the age of 15; so he beats the two great patriarchs of the desert. That took some stamina!

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the other long-lived Dominican, St Raymond of Penafort. he was late starter when it came to religious life, leaving his career as a lawyer to enter the Dominicans at the age of 47, however he lived until he was 100, so he clocked up many years of faithful service.  In those years he was called upon by the Church to serve not only as a priest, preacher and legal expert, but also as Archbishop of Tarragona a post he declined. However he was elected Master General of the Dominicans and as such did a huge amount of work for the Order, including directing St Thomas Aquinas to write the Summa contra gentiles. When he finished his period of office he was even busier in the pastoral ministry (no rest for the consecrated!) converting moors, founding priories and educational work. It is believed he was a friend of St Peter Nolasco and helped in the foundation of the Mercedarians. When he breathed his last he was buried in Barcelona Cathedral, though his Cause took some time, he was not canonised until 1601, 326 years after his death.

St Raymond is invoked by lawyers as their patron, particularly canon lawyers. And there are more than a few of them today who recognise that their patron's intercession and wise counsel is badly needed in these times. One of Raymond's great works was organising the Church's legal code at the request of the pope. Far from dismissing canon law, as many do today, he saw it as a necessary ordering of Church life, translating the Gospel into a format which will deal with the practical issues which arise daily within the life of the universal community.

Rather than seeing canon law as a shackle around the necks of Christians, St Raymond saw it as a means of protecting the freedom of the disciples of Christ and encouraging them in their observance of the Gospel. Remember this is a Saint who spent a large part of his life ministering to slaves, doing all he could to set them free and assisting the foundation of an Order which would dedicate itself to that work - the Mercedarians. The law of Church does uphold a standard - the standard of the Gospel and does so with grace-filled optimism, knowing that that standard is not an unreachable tease, but a real goal which, with God's grace, is within our reach - though it will require stretching on our part. That is usually referred to as the spiritual life.

I do think many in Church today now need to develop a more mature approach to canon law, and indeed to the high standards the Gospel sets.  For too long we have had to endure an adolescent rebellion against both, a rebellion which has led many to discard canon law and its processes and in doing so contributed to one of the worst scandals in the Church's history. Jettisoning the law, and as a consequence authentic justice, in the name of compassion and questionable charity, can lead to disaster. The law  may not be perfect (it must be supplemented with genuine Christian charity) but at times it is all that stands between us and chaos, between us and the savage beasts human beings can become if they are governed only by their passions and desires.

Perhaps St Raymond may well need to intercede for the Church in these times so she does not lose the run of herself. Fluffy talk about love, mercy and compassion may not be the wisest counsel when you live in fallen world.  Remember, virtue is not spun with candy floss, and authentic human flourishing does not emerge from a diet of sugar and ease - rotten teeth and flab are children of such a lifestyle.  We need love, mercy and compassion, but these must be grounded in the truth and the standards of the Gospel - the real Gospel, not the abridged version so often quoted.

Perhaps the miracle of St Raymond on the sea might inspire us. The saint accompanied the King of Aragon on a trip to the island Majorca where Raymond found an opportunity to rebuke the king for his public scandal. The king was not impressed and so took no notice of the saint's warnings. Raymond decided to leave the island in disgust, but the king prevented him, using force to do so: the Dominican was not going anyway for fear he would disgrace the king. However St Raymond could not be stopped. He took his mantle, threw it into the sea, set up his staff as a mast on it and jumping on this makeshift boat, he escaped from the king and the island, sailing across the hundred miles to the Spanish mainland. Those in standing at the quays in Barcelona witnessed the miracle and later testified to its authenticity.

May St Raymond navigate us all across the wild waters which surge over us in these times.

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