Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St Antoninus, O.P., Bishop, Confessor

Ecclesiasticus 44:16-17; 45:3-20 / Matthew 24:42-47

There is a counsel often heard in the workplace, especially when it is known that the boss is coming by: Look busy. For those inclined to find this counsel helpful, it seems clear either that there is work to be done, but that one's goal is to do just enough work, especially when noticed, to retain one's job and even perhaps get a raise, or that there really is not so much work to be done, but that should anyone advert to this fact, we might find ourselves out of a job. In either case, the work is seen as better avoided than engaged, and indeed only engaged in light of the coming of the boss, who, inexplicably, imagines that his workers ought to be at work.

There is, however, another motive to look busy, and that is actually to see that there is work to be done and to get at it. Said differently, one might want to look busy only accidentally, merely because one actually is busy. The saint whom we remember today, Anthony of Florence, lovingly called Antoninus by his brother Dominicans on account of his small stature, manifestly looked busy in this latter way throughout his life. He entered the Order at the age of sixteen, and filled with zeal for a stricter and more faithful observance to the way of life inaugurated by Dominic himself and lived in the first, saintly generations of the Order, Antoninus became superior at a series of houses across Italy — Foligno, Cortona, Fiesole, Naples, Rome, and Florence, where he founded the famous priory of San Marco and saw to its holy embellishment by Blessed Fra Angelico. He became the Vicar General of his fellow Observant Dominicans in Italy, served as papal theologian at the ecumenical Council of Florence, wrote several works to assist confessors in their holy work as doctors of souls, and was made bishop of Florence. Even then, while no one would have begrudged a certain concession to luxury that was seen, by his contemporaries, as due to the hierarchy of the Church, Antoninus continued his simple, ascetical lifestyle, serving especially the poor of the city, and all those in need from the plague and earthquake which afflicted the city during his tenure.

In all of this, Antoninus was truly like the faithful servant whom Jesus praises in the Gospel. He was the one who was always at in preaching the Gospel and the salvation of souls. That his death found him still engaged in such work was not because he nervously worried that, at any moment, the risen Lord would come into his life like a thief and find him ill prepared. Rather, it was because his zeal kept his mind on the works of his Master, rather than the time of the Master's return, that when his end came, he was rightly praised as a great priest, who in his days was pleasing to God.

This is why the joyous season of Easter, even if is releases us from the penitential rigor we engaged in Lent, does not lift from us the task of being at the work of the Gospel. The hope of the Resurrection should animate us in our serving the risen Lord not as though we need to "look busy" so as not to lose the prize of eternal life. Rather, the hope of the Resurrection is precisely what gives life and strength to our minds, hearts, and hands in our daily tasks, in the giving of food in due season to the members of the landlord's household, the poor of the world whom Christ claims as his own. We do so not so as to look busy and impress Christ, who will enter dramatically into our lives at an hour we cannot know, but because, so loved by him in the inexhaustible life flowing from the empty Tomb, we could not imagine a better way to spend our every hour.

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