HOMILY for St Juan Macias
Founded to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls, the Dominican Order is known for its emphasis on study for this end. The Dominican charism has sometimes been characterised as a sanctification of the intellect, and our most famous saints are known to be great scholars. St Albert the Great, for example, or St Thomas Aquinas. Or great writers and mystics such as St Catherine of Siena.
However, such intellectual saints are placed alongside saints like today’s, St John Macias who lived in Peru in the 17th-century. He was a lay brother of the Order, that is, one of the non-ordained brothers who were largely responsible for the domestic and administrative tasks of a religious house. They did not preach in church or evangelize out in the streets, but manned the doors, bought the food, cooked, and cleaned the priory where the friars lived; the kind of jobs we might consider less glamorous or, even, ‘inferior’.
But today’s readings and today’s saint causes us to look again at how we think of one another. St Paul says, “the body does not consist of one member but of many”. Each has a different part to play according to the calling and gifts given by God, and no part is more important than the other. Rather, each contributes to the needs of the one body and its common goal, and we need one another. St John’s life, like that of so many lay brothers before and after him, was one of unobtrusive service.
And there are many like him. If we walk about the city very early in the morning, we’ll see an army of people going about preparing the city – cleaning the streets, emptying the bins, stocking the supermarket shelves, delivering our supplies etc – for the business that we go about doing in our cities each day. And the same is true, on a smaller scale, of our homes, our communities, and indeed, this chapel: someone has set up, tidied, prepared and closed up after us. And so, we honour St John Macias by remembering their contributions too, and we thank them.
But what distinguished St John as a saint was not just his life of humble service but his attitude in serving. For many of us can be grudging and grumbling in our service, but St John was joyful and compassionate to all who approached the door of the priory. As door-keeper, he welcomed the hungry and needy, and he fed them. Because people told him of the needs in the city, he would arrange for food, clothing and medicine to be sent to the poor areas of Lima, Peru. Indeed, when he was canonized in 1975, one of the miracles attributed to him was the multiplication of rice to feed an entire poor community. All these good works in a saint are rightly called works of charity, because they flow from a heart full of God’s love.
And it’s this that makes St John a saint. Because he was motivated to serve by charity, the love of God. And so his life became a most eloquent sermon that drew hundreds to his Dominican priory and to Christ. So, following St John’s example, let us humbly use our gifts to build up our Church and society, but always with our common focus on charity; whatever we do, let love be our goal. For this is what St Paul means when he says: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts”.