The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
The disciples were afraid and fearful, and so, they did not understand Jesus’ talk about being arrested, killed, and rising again from the dead. So that, when these things took place, they fled for fear. They feared the Cross, persecution and suffering to such an extent that they were too afraid to even ask Jesus what he was talking about. And such fear is indeed perfectly understandable, and quite humanly reasonable. For it is natural to want to avoid suffering for fear of its evils; it’s reasonable and sensible to flee from harm and danger.
And yet, there are times when we willingly sacrifice our comfort and ease for a greater good. There are times when we do stand our ground, face our fears, and not flee. One only has to think of the diets and strenuous exercise inflicted on oneself for the sake of one’s health… Or, more significantly, I think of new parents who will give up sleep, or people who give up careers to care for a sick parent, child, or spouse. Indeed, at this sad time, I think, too, of the relief and emergency services hard at work to rescue and help those affected by the tornadoes in America. In all these situations, and so many others including the sitting of exams, we need the virtue of courage. It enables us to press on, to endure pain and discomfort, quite literally, for goodness’ sake.
But in addition to the natural virtue of courage, which we can acquire by our own human efforts and perseverance over a lifetime, there are those supernatural gifts from God which strengthen and perfect the natural moral virtues. They are inspirations or promptings of the Holy Spirit to move us towards our greatest good and our final end, which is to share in God’s divine life through Christ-like love.
Along with the six other gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is fortitude that was given to the disciples at Pentecost so that they emerge from their locked rooms, overcoming their fear to openly preach the Gospel. Mindful that “if [they] come forward to serve the Lord” they must be prepared for trials (cf Sir 2:1), the disciples now had the courage to risk imprisonment, beatings, ridicule, and even death to witness to Christ’s Gospel, that is, for the sake of truth. Ultimately, they were willing to sacrifice all, even martyrdom, for the sake of the greatest good, namely, eternal life with God. Courage like this, of course, would be foolish and rash if it were not based on truth. But it is: the truth of Christ’s own life; Jesus’ own sacrificial death and resurrection, which he had spoken of in today’s Gospel.
The disciples, when they were still afraid, had not understood this, but after Pentecost, filled with the Spirit and his gifts, they understood. They had faith in Christ’s life and witness, and hope in Christ’s promise that we would share his glory. And so, with fortitude and the other gifts of the Spirit, they were inspired to model their lives on Christ’s. They willed to forsake their own comfort, to suffer and even to die, not just for the sake of goodness, but for the sake of Love.
Today, we may not be martyred like the apostles were, but we do still need fortitude for the daily living out of our Christian calling, to remain faithful to Christ especially when it is difficult and demanding. This, too, is a martyrdom, as our lives bear witness to the Gospel with sacrifice, as we die to our self, our fears, and our egocentric desires. Thus, it takes fortitude to persevere in marriage, to be a true friend, to stay committed to our religious vows, to be faithful in our jobs and in all the daily tasks we don’t necessarily enjoy. It takes fortitude to confront our sins, repent, and go to confession. But when we’re faced with difficulty and trials, we can either flee from them into an easier, more comfortable way, avoiding the challenge, or we can confront our fears, stand true, and choose to act with love.
If we choose love, then we will need fortitude. So, let us pray to the Holy Spirit, and ask him to re-kindle in our hearts the gifts he first gave us at our Confirmation.
Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church, and so, we tend to think of it as commemorating something new, as marking a beginning, a birth. But in fact, if we consider what the Jewish feast of Pentecost, also called the feast of the First Fruits, was about, we can look at it differently. Pentecost was the the completion of a seven-week long celebration begun just after the Passover, and it marked the harvest season, when the first fruits of a new harvest were offered to God in thanksgiving. As such, Pentecost was a day of expectation and a culmination; it marks the kind of ending that harvesting implies rather than the beginning that is implied in sowing.
Hence the great signs of Pentecost when the Spirit descends on the Church are also evocative of harvesting: wind, as from a winnowing fan to separate the wheat from the chaff (cf Mt 3:12), and fire, as in traditional harvesting methods to bring fertility and new life to the harvested land. So, at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit comes as the harvester and he comes to “renew the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30).
But this Pentecostal harvesting is the culmination of what began fifty days earlier on Easter Sunday. For the risen Christ is, as St Paul says, the “first fruits” of a new creation (cf 1 Cor 15:20). And it is he, as first fruits, who was offered to the Father, being taken up into heaven at his Ascension. And now, on the fiftieth day, the climax of the Paschal celebrations, the Spirit comes to harvest and offer up to the Father those first fruits of Christ’s new creation, namely, Christ’s holy Church who stand for a humanity renewed and transformed by the power of Christ’s resurrection. Thus, the Spirit comes to harvest you and me, we who are baptized into Christ. And, so, we are being offered with Christ as first fruits to the Father; we’re being raised up by the Spirit to new and everlasting life with God. As St Paul put it: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also” (Rom 8:11).
However, if the day of Pentecost was the great moment of God’s harvesting, then this is a moment which continues to this day. For the Church, who is animated by the Holy Spirit, lives ever in the Pentecostal moment, called in every age to renew and transform the whole world through the preaching and living out of the Gospel. Time and again, Christians have failed in this calling, but the Spirit comes as wind and fire to separate wheat from chaff, to burn out impurities with God’s fiery love, and to renew the face of the Church. Thus, the Church, and each of us individually, must call out each day: “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew us”.
And the Spirit who comes, and who renews us by bringing to our remembrance all that Jesus has taught us (cf Jn 14:26b), will also send us out as labourers into God’s harvest. This missionary imperative was put into action on Pentecost day. The tongues of flame loosened the tongues of the disciples so that they could preach the Gospel to all nations. It is in this sense that we can speak of the birthday of the Church. Because the Church was born for mission. She exists to “bring to remembrance” before all peoples what Jesus said and did. You and I, as members of the Church, are here for others, for the good of the world; we exist as a Church to be sent out to serve our brothers and sisters by bringing them the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI said: “[The Church] exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection”. Our chapel, which looks out onto the world, and with the Altar of Christ’s sacrifice and the tabernacle of God’s dwelling with us so visible to all passers-by, is a constant reminder of this: that we, the Church, exist to evangelize. We’re here in order to go out into God’s harvest, into the world, as labourers, collaborating with the Holy Spirit to “renew the face of the earth”.
But what does this renewal, this collaboration with God, mean concretely? Let us look again to the Biblical origins of Pentecost.
One of the characteristics of friendship is that friends share important aspects of their life with one another and reveal things about themselves to one another. So, Jesus has said that he calls us his friends because he makes known to us all that he has heard from his Father (Jn 15:15). And that is what he is doing in today’s Gospel, showing us friendship by revealing to us the beautiful intimacy of the life of the Holy Trinity, and leading us to see what friendship with God entails.
The verses I want to concentrate on are these, the final words in Jesus’ long Last Supper discourse and prayer. He says: “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26). Here, Jesus is speaking of the person of the Holy Spirit, who is Love itself, the perfect love of the Father and the Son. It is the Holy Spirit who is the mutual bond of love between the Father and the Son, so that, as St Thomas says: “The Father and the Son love each other through the Holy Spirit”. Thus, the Holy Trinity is a communion of love; “God is love”, as St John says (1 Jn 4:8).
So, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, the love with which the Father loves the Son, comes to dwell in us. And this happens when Jesus has made known the Father’s name to us. For this is what the Son has come to do: to reveal to us, his friends, that God is Abba, Father, and to teach us how to live as God’s sons and daughters. Through Christ, then, and through faith in his Word, we are able to have the same relationship of divine Sonship that he has with the Father.
This faith, this knowledge of the Truth, comes from Christ for he is Truth. And faith precedes love because we cannot love who we do not know – which is why it is important to read the Scriptures, to engage in theology and learn about God and the Faith. Because as we come to know the Father; as we profess the Truth that Christ and his Church teaches us; and we become converted to the mind of Christ, so that we think and see as he does; then the Spirit comes to us too. The Spirit comes as Love itself to hold us in a mutual bond of love with the Father, and to empower us to love the Father as the Son does, that is, through him. Hence, St Paul says: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6).
The result of this coming of the Son and the Holy Spirit to dwell in us is that we know and love the Father, and so, we are united with the one God, dwelling in the communion of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this is what we mean by the life of grace, which is given in Baptism, and for you and me to be in a state of grace, which is only lost through mortal sin. But Confession restores this grace to us if we’ve lost it, so that we have communion and friendship with the Holy Trinity once more.
This life of grace is, quite literally, heaven on earth, and eternity right now; it is our humanity being sanctified and made divine so that God doesn’t just call us his friends. He calls you “my beloved son”.
There seems to be, even among Catholics, a contemporary tendency toward agnosticism about God and the articles of faith, because it is thought that the truth about God and faith cannot be known with certainty. So, to make dogmatic statements of faith would be arrogant because we cannot really say what is true. And yet, today, Jesus says: “Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17b). This is to say, that truth can be known and found in him, the Word of God. And truth, as such, is discovered with and through the Church who continues and incarnates in every place, culture and age, the Word of God.
But how do we know this to be true? Jesus says: “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19). The first sense of ‘consecrate’ in this sentence is that of a sacrificial offering set aside for God. So, Jesus is referring to his Passion, to his sacrifice on the Cross, and to his resurrection. And Jesus says that he undergoes this Paschal Mystery for our sake, in order that we might be “consecrated in truth”, that is to say, that we may know; be certain of; be set apart for God through the truth. And the truth that we know from the historical fact of Jesus’ sacrificial death and re-creating resurrection is that God is Love. All who witness to this and profess this, are thus united. For we are one through this truth that God is Love, one in our faith in the incarnate Word of God; made one Body, one Church in Christ. Since this unity comes from our common witness to the truth of the Cross, St Paul can thus say in today’s First Reading that “the church of God [is] obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28b). For the Church who is consecrated in truth is born from Christ’s witness on the Cross, born from his sacrificial witness to the truth of God’s undying love.
And the fruit of knowing the truth, of being consecrated in the testimony of God’s Word, is two-fold. Firstly, the Church is held in unity. For there is a unity between what is and what we believe, such that all who hold to the faith also concur on what is, and are united. And the second fruit is that we are kept from the Evil One. For the devil is the Father of Lies (Jn 8:44) who seduces us through un-truths and half-truths, through agnosticism about the faith. So, we are kept safe from the devil’s trickery if we seek and find truth where it is to be found, namely in God’s Word and in the Church of the incarnate Word.
Hence, to learn and to expound the doctrines of the Church, to contemplate her dogmas, is not arrogance, as some seem to think. This might be so – indeed, it would be dangerous foolishness – were the Church’s doctrine merely opinion, or if truth were a weapon of the Church which she can manipulate at will. But the Church of the incarnate Word does not possess truth. Rather, she is possessed by Truth, in love with her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and so, treasuring every word that he speaks. Through the centuries, then, all who have loved Christ have desired to know the Word of God intimately; to study and share the Church’s dogmas; to ask questions so as to deepen our understanding of them. The task of theology, and especially dogmatic theology, as such, is not arrogance but a humble desire to be consecrated in the truth, to be protected from the Evil One, and to seek unity in Jesus Christ.
Moreover, in this theological quest for truth, one is merely being human, for Mankind has a natural desire for truth. Thus, as St Thomas says, Truth, especially the ultimate truth of God and being, of life, death, and our final end must be knowable, if Mankind is not to be simply absurd. Thus, Jesus consecrates himself, revealing the truth of who God is, “for [our] sake” (Jn 17:19a), so that humanity might not be absurd but have meaning, purpose, and direction.
preached during a Mass with the Confirmation & First Communion of a student
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (Jn 15:16). For the Lord chose us even before we were born, he called us into being, and then, in our baptism and confirmation he appointed us to go and bear fruit. He called us, just as St Matthias was, to be a witness to the whole world of the resurrection; to be his friend, able to delight in his company and have the joy of eternal life. We get a foretaste of these heavenly delights in the Eucharist, and through the sacraments of the Church, we encounter the living Lord Jesus.
St Matthias was not one of the Twelve to begin with, but he was one of Christ’s disciples who followed him, who knew and saw Jesus; he walked in the company of Christ and his apostles. So, in a similar way, through our communion with the holy Catholic Church, in which the preaching and teaching of the Twelve apostles continues in an unbroken Tradition to this day, we also become one of Christ’s disciples. We follow Jesus, and we come to know and see him with the eyes of faith, in the faith of the apostles.
For it is within the community of the Church, as sharers in the living memory of the Church, that we experience and see the Lord Jesus, that we abide in his love (cf Jn 15:9). As we read the Church’s Scriptures, listen to her teaching and reflection of the Word of God, and are nourished by her sacramental and liturgical life, we come to know and see the authentic Jesus Christ, the Living One whom the apostles knew and saw, and to whom they bore witness, down to us today.
But if we dwell in the Church, we don’t just know and see Christ, we also learn to love him. For although faith precedes charity, because we cannot love what we do not know, love is more important, because charity takes us right into the heart of God to participate intimately in the life of God who is love. So, the apostolic faith that we receive in baptism, is strengthened by the personal gift of God’s Love, his Holy Spirit, in the sacrament of confirmation. And our faith bears fruit when we receive the Eucharist with proper dispositions. For through this sacrament, which is the beating heart of the Church, we can come to know, see and experience God’s love for us. We will receive his love, given to us abundantly in Holy Communion, so that we, in turn, can love one another as Christ has loved us (cf Jn 15:12b) – with a self-giving sacrificial love for others. This is our mission in the world, given to us in Confirmation, that we should be witnesses of God’s love to all peoples, calling them to become God’s friends, loving others as Jesus does.
We’re called, in other words, to be true icons, faithful images, of Christ to the world. Which is what your Confirmation name, Veronica, means. Indeed, every Christian is called to be a veronica, a true image and likeness of Jesus Christ in the world. And if we are like Christ, loving as he does, and united to him in love, then we shall bear fruit: the fruit of everlasting life in communion with the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
in St Birinus’, Dorchester-on-Thames on 2 June 2011
Today is a day of paradoxes. It is a day of sorrow at the Lord’s departure from this earth, but also of great joy because he has gone into heaven to prepare a place for us. As the Preface puts it: He “was lifted up into heaven so that He might make us partakers of His divinity”. Today too, we are called to beChrist’s witnesses – something which normally involves firsthand knowledge through the senses – but today he is taken from our sight… That is to say, he is beyond the perceptivity of our senses. But although he is out of sight, he is not absent or unknowable. The Gospel of St Mark told us that after the Ascension, the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (16:20). And that is what the Lord is doing now in this sacred Liturgy. He is working with his Church, and confirming the Gospel that is being preached with signs, above all, the most sublime Sign of the Blessed Sacrament in which he is present.
If we think about the Eucharist, what the Liturgy calls the Mysterium Fidei, we can understand how we can still be witnesses to Christ, even though he is taken from our sight. Regarding the Eucharist, St Thomas says in the ‘Tantum ergo’: “Faith, for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail”. So, we recognize the presence of God, and know divine truth, not by sight, not by the senses, but by faith. As St Paul says: “We walk by faith and not by sight”. For Christ has been taken from our sight, but we can still come to know and love him, and to experience his living presence in the world through Faith. And faith is a power which is given to us only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hence in the reading we’ve just heard from Acts, the Lord says: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses…” (1:8) What the virtue of faith gives us is an understanding of divine truth. It is a kind of firsthand knowledge that comes from an opening of the heart and mind to trust in what the Incarnate Word reveals, because Christ is God’s Word of Truth. As St Thomas says: “Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true”. So, with faith in Jesus Christ, the One whom the book of the Apocalypse calls “the faithful witness”, we too can become faithful witnesses to divine truth.
But to be faithful witnesses, our acts of faith have to be directed properly towards true and authentic objects of faith, and our most sure teacher of the Faith is the Church. For she is the Mystical Body of Christ, the visible presence of Christ in time until he returns in glory. United to her Head, she bears faithful witness to the truths he revealed in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
How does the Church bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ? I want to consider just two ways. Firstly, through her sacred Tradition, which is like a living memory of what Christ has done and handed on to his apostles. For the Church not only has her Scriptures, which are a written witness to the mystery of Christ. But the message is confirmed by signs; what the Dominican cardinal Yves Congar referred to as “witnesses of tradition” such as the Fathers and the Magisterium. In particular, he was convinced that “the liturgy is tradition itself at its highest degree of power and solemnity”. Which is why the usus antiquior is such a precious gift to the entire Church. For it is the witness of tradition, an ancient sign which the Church has done in memory of Him, so that we can come to know and love Him, our Lord. So that we can become faithful witnesses ourselves when we partake of sacred Tradition.
The Church bears witness to Christ in another way – one which flows naturally from faith, and from participation in the Liturgy. This is the witness of Christian lives of holiness. The saints are pre-eminent witnesses to Christ, and they are signs of the power of faith, and of divine grace at work in the world. Resplendent in sanctity and charity, the saints are Christ’s work in the world, his signs that confirm the message of the Gospel.
How we behave, then, witnesses to the truth of what we believe in. We heard in St Mark’s Gospel that the disciples are to “preach the gospel to the whole creation”, which is an act of mercy and charity. But they are also to “cast out demons”, and heal the sick. So, the practical things that we might do to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of those around us are a sign to the world of Christ‘s presence and activity in the Church. And it is through her charity that the Church is more clearly seen to be a communion of saints, a “cloud of witnesses” (12:1), as the letter to the Hebrews says.
After today’s beautiful, heavenly liturgy, we might be feel like the Men of Galilee, gazing rapt into heaven. Like them, we are asked: “Why do you standlooking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). Because like them, we have the same mission. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are to be the witnesses of Christ “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are to manifest his presence in the world through charity, to attract others to Christ through the beauty of holiness, and through the holiness of beautiful, faithful preaching and signs. Then, enlightened by faith, others too might see - indeed, witness - Christ coming among them, living and acting in his Church…
Christ, our Eucharistic Lord, coming on clouds of incense, for every Liturgy is a Parousia, a coming of Jesus Christ in the midst of his disciples.
One word recurs in our readings today: glory, from the Latin gloria. But what, really, do we mean by glory? Usually, I think this word evokes light, brilliance, and splendour. And these are related to the Greek word for glory, which is doxa. But if we look at the Scriptural origins of glory from the Hebrew word kabod we find something rather unexpected. Glory, coming from kabod is related to weight. So, in contrast with our association of glory with soaring flights of angels, light, and uplift, glory, coming from the Hebrew kabod, denotes a quality of being heavy with weight, wealth or nobility, or with exceptional goodness. Glory, in this sense, implies the wealth and power of the king, his riches and worth, because of what he has done. Or we can think of an Olympian or a soldier who has achieved glory in athletics or combat, and is weighed down with medals; their weightiness proclaim what he has achieved, they glorify him.
If we translate this idea to God, then kabod, glory, signifies the wonderful work that God has done in creating all that is, and it tells of what Christ has achieved in dying, rising again and ascending into heaven. For God’s greatest work, his heaviest impact, his glory is seen in the salvation of sinful humanity; in our being brought from the death of sin to the fullness and abundance of new life in the risen Lord Jesus. Thus St Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is Man fully alive”. The glory of God is you and me, being re-born through grace as sons and daughters of God, sharing in the divine life of Christ, being one with him in the communion of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf Jn 17:26).
This tremendous work of God’s grace that lifts up a sinner to become a saint, beckoning Mankind to “Come” and enjoy freedom and life in the Trinity (cf Apoc 22:17), brings about the glory of God. And the effect of God’s grace is glorious, and this is probably why the word ‘glory’ has come to connote light, brilliance and uplift, because the effect of what God has done for us, what his grace causes, is to raise sinful Man up to share in God’s light and divine life.
However, the idea of God’s glory, kabod, is still related to weightiness because each saint is like a shining medal glorifying God, signifying who he is – our Creator and Redeemer – and what he has done – united the saint to God’s self through grace. For each and every saint, beginning with St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, witnesses to the triumph of God’s grace. Stephen’s life and death testifies to what God has done for weak, frightened and sinful humanity through Jesus Christ, which is to re-make each human person in Christ’s image, strengthened with his virtues. Thus, Stephen’s death, which completes and seals his life’s work, is deliberately portrayed by St Luke as mirroring Jesus’ death: both innocently condemned, executed outside the city, and died forgiving their killers.
The work of God’s grace that re-fashions us in Christ’s image is weighty, heavy business; the work of our sanctification and our salvation is impressive, world-impacting, life-changing. As such, it’s also glorious. And kabod does carry this notion of being heavy with goodness. In this sense, we might speak of the weight of our vocation as Christians. For we’re called to be holy, we’re made for glory, and this will involve a certain expectation of what we’re called to do. This gives a certain weightiness to the moral choices we make, and heavy sacrifices will be necessary. For love demands sacrifice, as the life of Christ and of St Stephen shows us, but it is only through love that we become like Christ, that we are united and become one with God who is love.
The Holy Spirit is called the parakletos, the One-Who-Is-Called-Alongside you and me. He stands beside us, as our friend, but also as our counsellor and advocate. The language being used here is deliberately legal, and one calls to mind a courtroom situation in which we stand accused. Often, many people think that God accuses us of our sins, or we might blame ourselves and feel downcast because of what we’ve done, or it may look like the Church is pointing fingers at people to condemn them as sinners. But this cannot be; it’s diabolical. Because, quite simply, the one who accuses us, the one who blames us, and points fingers at us, and wants us to stand condemned of sin is not God, and not his holy Church, but the Devil. The Devil is the diabolos, the one who hurls his accusations across at us. It is he who attacks you and me with recriminations, and so, causes fear and troubles us. But Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). Because against the prosecution of the Devil stands the parakletos, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name to defend us, to raise us up through his grace, to restore us to peace.
For the peace that Christ gave us, which he won for us through his death and resurrection, and which we have through baptism, had been disturbed through sin. We experience a kind of disintegration in ourselves when we listen to Christ’s words, hear his teaching and say we love him, but we do not keep his word; we do not love him enough. So, sin splits us apart, and that is what the diabolos, the one who throws things apart, always wants to do – divide, splinter, and disintegrate. Thus, we find that we might know something to be good and true, we want to behave as children of the light, redeemed by Christ, but we don’t. We use our human freedom to choose our older ways – those more familiar and comfortable sins that our wills are too weak to resist. St Paul describes the situation vividly: “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…” (Rom 7:15). And then, when we fail and fall, the Devil keeps us down, standing on our backs and telling us how rotten, how guilty, how hypocritical we are. It’s the kind of thing an unforgiving and judgmental Press metes out on public sinners, only far worse.
But in this darkness of sin and despair, as we’re being prosecuted and accused, we need to call out for our defence attorney; we just lack the ability to defend ourselves against so wily an Enemy. The Holy Spirit, we’re assured today, is the parakletos; we just need to call on him, and he will come alongside us as our defender. He comes to plead our case, to counsel and convince us. And what does he say?
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27), says the Lord in today’s Gospel. And some might say that the pope we remember today, an Italian Dominican friar, wasn’t a man of peace. After all, Pope Pius V is remembered in England for excommunicating Elizabeth I and releasing Catholic subjects of their allegiance to the queen (in 1570), and he is also credited with having rallied the forces of Christendom, the so-called Holy League, in a great naval battle at Lepanto in 1571 against the Muslim Turks who threatened to overrun Europe.
And yet, St Pius V wasn’t really a belligerent man. He had been a shepherd before he joined the Dominicans, and he remained at heart a conscientious, austere and diligent shepherd, eager to maintain the safety and the peace of his flock. Even when he was serving as grand inquisitor under the previous pope, Paul IV, as Eamon Duffy notes, “he had fallen foul of Paul IV for excessive leniency”. And during the battle of Lepanto he had remained in Rome and gathered the people of the city in prayer, saying the Rosary. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on 7 October was instituted by Pope Pius V in thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto, which he ascribed to Mary’s intercession.
For St Pius V’s primary concern wasn’t so much with the peace of the world – perhaps he felt this was not his duty. After all Christ had said: “Not as the world gives do I give [peace] to you” (Jn 14:27). Rather, Pius V’s concern and duty as pope, to whom Christ had entrusted his little flock, was to secure for God’s people the peace that only Jesus Christ could give; the peace that comes through a saving faith in him, through knowledge of the fullness of the Truth he taught, through a loving communion with Christ’s holy Church. So, as far as Pius V could see, Elizabeth I and the other Protestant leaders disrupted the peace and unity of the Church, and would prevent Catholics from practicing the fullness of the Christian faith in peace. This was even more certain with the Turkish forces who threatened the future of Christianity in Europe. Hence, St Pius bravely did what he felt he had to on these two fronts in order to secure peace for the Catholic faithful.
But even among his Catholic flock there was disturbance and turmoil brought about by moral laxity, poor theological formation, and corruption among the clergy. This seems to be a recurring theme in Church history, for the Church was once more in need of reform, and Pius V was elected in 1566 to implement the decrees of the reforming Council of Trent. In his six year pontificate, he radically reformed the Roman curia, reduced its costs, and disciplined wayward cardinals and clergy. Looking to the faith education of the laity and clergy, he published the Roman Catechism and promoted as a solid formation for seminarians the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas. He also promoted the unity and renewal of the Liturgy, putting in place an edition of the Roman Missal that remained essentially unchanged until Vatican II. Finally, he upheld the unity of theology in both the Eastern and Western Church.
All these works, which St Pius V laboured over until his death in 1572 were aimed at restoring unity and peace to Christ’s Church so that all within her Body might experience the unity and peace that Christ gave to his disciples. For Christ’s peace is found through the unity of faith, in the one saving Truth that Christ entrusted to his Church, and also in the consolation of her Liturgy and sacraments, for in these we encounter Jesus Christ who is our peace.
So, today, we give thanks to God for Pope St Pius V who shepherded Christ’s flock with such diligence and personal holiness of life, and we ask him to pray for the Church that she may be ever more united in the peace of Christ.
Father Leon Dehon, founder of the Priestly Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Congregatio Sacerdotorum a Sacro Corde Iesu) also known as the Dehonians, celebrating Holy Mass. According to former privilege granted to the missionaries in China,