Saturday, May 7, 2011

St Stanislaus, Bishop, Martyr

Wisdom 5:1-5 / John 15:1-7

We might like historical knowledge to be clean, clear, and, after all the right digging around has been done, the appropriate texts discovered and read, the proper sites excavated and interpreted, we might like for there to be no possible doubt as to what happened in the past, and why. Now, perhaps this is because the human desire to know is innate, and the fundamental tentative character of all knowledge of history offends against our desire to be certain. More than that, I imagine that we worry that what he have done, indeed more what we have suffered for the sake of the Gospel, will not be able to be forgotten, or even worse, misrepresented. We convince ourselves that, once people saw the relevant facts, they would know as we know that what we have suffered was neither pointless nor self-serving, but truly an irrefutable witness of the power of the risen Christ.

While we might like this, it is nonetheless not the case. We see this clearly enough in the life and death of St Stanislaus. We assert, for example, that he was slain while celebrating Mass (long before the parallel events occurred in England to St Thomas Becket) by King Boleslaus II of Poland because the saintly bishop had challenged the king for his wicked behavior. However, there are scholars who assert, and contemporary records that suggest, that Stanislaus was a traitor who had conspired with powerful men in the kingdom to have Boleslaus removed from the throne.

The same ambiguity arises in one of Stanislaus' most famous miracles. It was said that a man Peter had donated his land to the Church, but that after his death, his family denied the donation and demanded their inheritance. The king himself supported the family and demanded that Stanislaus either produce a credible witness or withdraw his claim on behalf of the Church. After three days of intense prayer, God raised Peter from the dead, and before the astonished court, he bore witness that Stanislaus' claim was true, and that the land rightly belonged to the Church.

A clear witness, you say, and undeniable. Indeed, and so it was for those who were there. However, as the story continues, Peter was asked whether he wanted to remain alive. He said he did not, and wanted to return to await his eternal reward. So, returned to the grave, we have only the legend to vouch not only for the veracity of St Stanislaus' claim, and with it his holiness, as well as the veracity of the claim that Peter rose from the dead. In short, despite the power of this irrefutable witness for those who saw it, the claim remains for us, always capable of dispute, always able to be misread and misinterpreted, able to transform the record of our holiness into a record of self-serving pretense.

It is true that Scripture promises that, on the Last Day, those who mocked the just will find that the elect had suffered not in vain, but unto glory: We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honor; behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the Saints. Even so, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has promised his elect in this lifetime not unmistakable proof of their sanctity, but at one and the same time, evidence of holiness in their sharing in the fruits of his Resurrection and evidence of shame in their suffering by his holy design. Every branch in Me ... that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. In other words, the life of the saint will be, by divine design, as much characterized by failure, opposition, and ambiguous witness as it will be by the consistent and irrefutable growth of charity and the fruits of a life redeemed.

This is the lot of those who share in the Resurrection. Indeed, this is the very lot of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. As beyond reproach as he is at the right hand of the Father, until the Last Day, when he appears in glory, and none will be able to deny him, he will remain always able to be misunderstood and denied, his goodness transposed into something less noble, less life-giving, less divine. If such is the life of the vine, what else ought we to expect of the branches?

No comments: