Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites, Confessors

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15 / Matthew 19:27-29

Some of them have left behind a name that is remembered to their praise; but of others there is no memory, for it perished when they perished, and they are as though they had never lived, they and their children after them.

It is hard to aim at greatness when the bar is placed so high. Sometimes nothing prevents a work from being started more than the knowledge that someone, somewhere has done it, or will do it, better, with greater impact, wider effect, and more lasting good. Members of families may feel this way; for members of a religious order, it is nearly a way of life. Day after day one hears of the men of renown, from a generation just past, or many years ago, in whom the Lord has wrought great glory through His magnificence. No doubt the Servites feel that sense, knowing the holiness of not one, but seven holy founders, all from noble families of Florence, each of which could itself claim to have been rulers of earth by their authority, men of renown for their might, or counselors in their wisdom. Certainly as a Dominican, the cycle of the year reminds me, month after month, how so many of my brothers in the past, from the remotest times to the recent, have been recognized by the whole Church for their holiness. Indeed, with the fame of Thomas Aquinas alone, it is hard to see what there is left for a Dominican to say which is not a mere footnote.

Now, if by keeping our aim level we are trying to respect the gifts we actually have, to admit humbly that what we have is good as far as it goes, and can do the good God wills it to do, then we have not erred. We would no doubt have kept ourselves from culpable self-promotion, from a foolish overreaching, from pride and a search after vainglory. We are content with the simple gifts we have been given, confident with the conforting words of Ecclesiasticus. Even those whose deeds were not heroic, whose names go unremembered, in whose families no one boasts to be a member, these nonetheless also were godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten; their wealth remains in their families, their posterity are a holy inheritance, and their seed has stood in the covenants. In short, the goods that I experience are not simply the work of the heroes of the past, the stars who shine brightly and whose gifts deserve the universal acclaim of the people of God. What I enjoy of the faith is also the direct inheritance of those wonderful, holy men and women whose virtues, whose love, was no less than to be found in the ranks of the canonized, however smaller their fame.

However, while all of this is true, is it not an excuse for aiming low. Indeed, it is a compelling argument for the reverse. If I aim high so as to have renown, then in truth I seek after wind. But, if I aim for the heights so as to do great and glorious things in God's power, to serve with holy abandon not in small ways but in marvellous ways, the effects of which will be lasting and great even if no one knows it was through me that they were accomplished, then I am on the right path. God, after all, is not impressed by the pusillanimous, the narrow souls who seek to "get by" and do just enough to avoid fault. God wants to call us to magnanimity, to a greatness of soul, a greatness which seeks only the best for those whom we love, for God and those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Even unnamed and unremembered, we are called by God to do the best we can, and to seek a return not double or triple, but a hundredfold. Beloved in Christ, we seek nothing less than to possess everlasting life. For a goal such as that, what wouldn't we be willing to do?

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