THE PEACE OF CHRIST COMES ONLY
THROUGH THE CROSS
Not for nothing did the Fathers of the Church see the Church coming from the pierced side of Christ, which iconographically is seen to perfection in the Divine Mercy image, where the shaft or white light symbolizes Baptism and the red light symbolizes the Eucharist. The Church was born in the crucible of the Passion, its birth was infinitely more painful than any woman’s birth pangs.
We have just celebrated the great feast of Pentecost, where the Church is seen as beginning properly, a sort of appearance for the first time of the new born baby, so to speak; in fact rather like the gathering of friends and family for the Baptism of a new born child. The Church then is born on the cross, and presented to the world through tongues of fire, and the preaching of the Gospel in one language understood by all.
Today with all our mass communications, all the wonders of the internet with men and women and children constantly texting, emailing, going on Skype, looking at their e pads and I pods and I pads, there is an overwhelming sense of confusion. Satan the Father of Lies confuses with all this modern technology, and with the endless and relentless news media items we are given no real news at all, simply a vast amount of propaganda. As the world has become, what is tritely called, the Global village, there is nothing remotely resembling a village here. In a village everyone knows everyone else, and everyone else’s business. So often in our modern urban world all we have is anonymity, soulessness, loneliness and despair. With all our modern technology and endless sexual relationships we are in an abyss of despair and darkness. There are hardly any great men and women anywhere. Film stars, and the fictional world of the celebrity dominate everything with a vacuity bordering on lunacy. All that glisters is definitely not gold. We are expected to be amazed and impressed that Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy. I think I would be happier if she condemned the utter immorality of Hollywood, and decided never to act again.
Today the 22nd of May is the feast of “The Saint of the Impossible”, namely St. Rita of Cascia. The daughter of elderly parents born in Rocca Porena in the diocese of Spoleto, that lovely city in Umbria entered by a great bridge over a valley, and whose Cathedral apse is decorated by Fra Fillipo Lippi. Brought up by parents who were known as “Peacemakers of Jesus Christ” they insisted on her marrying against her wishes. Rita wanted to be a nun, but in obedience to her parents she was married at 12 to an “extremely cruel and ill tempered man” who was also unfaithful. They had two sons. After 18 years of marriage her husband was killed by multiple stab wounds and her twin sons were bent on vengeance. Rita begged them not to and, as her pleas sounded on deaf ears, she implored God for help. Her sons died suddenly, and the vendetta never took place.
Rita then asked to enter the Augustinian convent in Cascia, but the nuns did not want to accept her because she was a widow and not a virgin. After several years and three attempts to join, Rita was received. She was renowned for her obedience, her charity, the power of her prayers, and her mystical life that was imbued with the Passion of Christ. For about the last 15 years of her life Rita had a mystical wound on her forehead that would not heal, and which smelt dreadful. After a life of great suffering Rita died in 1456 at the age of 70.
The epistle for her feast is from Philipians and here we have the first half of it;
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4: 4-7)
This is what the peace of the Holy Spirit is; it is a deep joyful certainty that come what may God loves us, despite all the terrible things that go on about us.
At present the World is awash with hideous and demonic violence and cruelty, when has it not been, but you would have thought that the human race would have learnt by its mistakes; obviously it has not, for the simple reason that it has turned its back on God. We have only to think of Abu Sakkar, the Syrian rebel commander who was videoed eating a soldier’s lung. A terrible thing you will agree, and rightly so, but is it far worse than abortion and partial birth abortion which is done by supposedly compassionate doctors, who are not compassionate at all? At best they are falsely compassionate. War, abortion, wife beating, paedophilia, rape, the crushing of the poor, the destruction of countries, and economies, slavery, and divorce which rips families apart, all these are the work of Satan. We vanquish evil by humility, and charity as St. Rita did. The Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments tell us how we are to behave, and we must always render good for evil. That is true heroism, not going to war in other peoples’ countries which are half way around the World. That is fighting for governments who are shot through with pride and vanity. As Christians our home is heaven. We love our countries, our homes, our towns not in competition with others but as part of that World, which was meant to be Paradise, and now is vast becoming a Hell, which is not surprising,for ever since the Fall Satan has been enthroned as Prince of the World. At the end of Time, when Christ will come again, he will hand the World back to his Father, and then all things will be made new.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis in his homily on the Feast of Pentecost asked us to consider the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives under three headings, newness, harmony, and mission. In the life of every saint we see these things, newness, harmony, and mission. How often St. Rita would have been tempted to leave her ghastly husband. She did not; she remained true to her marriage vows, and triumphed. This was heroism indeed, something that our American and British soldiers will not be managing to do in Afghanistan and other places. Rita finds herself free at last, and able to do continue her original vocation. Her life in the Augustinian Monastery is a new life, and through charity, she is able to harmonize all her different activities into a marvellous whole. This harmony finds its zenith in mystical suffering and In prayer that brings about miracles. Today she is known because of the Spanish as “The Saint of the Impossible”.
Today much rubbish is talked about the Holy Spirit, and the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is invoked, at times, in a most peculiar way, and it seems that a vast amount of Christians are infected by a sort of creeping Pentecostalism, which seems to be a form of intense subjectivity, but if we look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit they have nothing to do with what a charismatic would understand by gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wonderfully understated but utterly fundamental things. They are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude (Courage), Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. These gifts are the great chain that so to speak undergird 10 of the fruits, because the first fruit, which is Charity runs like a golden thread through the gifts, and is utterly at one with the third fruit, which is Peace. The other fruits so to speak hang on these. Because if we are people of true charity then we will have Joy, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-control, and Chastity.
For Rita to have lived a life of such great suffering in her marriage, and in her Convent, she would have had to have the 7 gifts and the 12 fruits to an eminent degree. It is not surprising that she is the most popular saint in Italy, and I do not think that that is because she is simply a great miracle worker, but because she had to confront the prospect of being married to a really a very bad man and then in this apparently disastrous marriage find God in it, despite everything asserting the opposite, namely that God had nothing to do with it. On one hand paradoxically he did not. Rita was meant to have been a nun, and her good parents blind to her vocation, no doubt because they worried as to what might happen to her after she had gone, went against God’s designs. But God triumphs through humility and true docility to his Spirit, and no more so than in the life of Rita. More than her parents she was indeed “A Peacemaker of Jesus Christ.” And so let us end with St. Paul’s marvellous words ringing in our ears .
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say,
Let all men know your forebearance.
The Lord is at hand.
Have no anxiety about anything,
But in everything by prayer and supplication
Let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace that passes all understanding,
Will keep your hearts and minds in