How wonderful is God among his saints: come, let us adore him.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: White.
Saint Marguerite d'Youville (1701 - 1771)
She was born at Varennes, near Montréal in Canada. She was married and had two children. In 1738, a widow, she formed a lay group dedicated to charity, with four other women, and took simple vows. This grew into the Order of Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montréal, the “Grey Nuns.” She was the first native-born Canadian to be canonized.
Other saints: St Richard Gwyn (c.1537-1584)
Richard Gwyn (alias White) was born at Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire, about 1537; and was executed at Wrexham, Denbighshire, 15 October, 1584. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, until 1562, when he became a schoolmaster, first at Overton in Flintshire, then at Wrexham and other places, acquiring considerable reputation as a Welsh scholar. He had six children by his wife Catherine, three of whom survived him. For a time he conformed to the new religion, but was reconciled to the Catholic Church when priests first came back to Wales. Owing to his refusal to attend church (recusancy) he was arrested more than once, and in 1579 he was imprisoned in Ruthin gaol, where he was offered liberty if he would conform. In 1580 he was transferred to Wrexham, where he suffered much persecution, being forcibly carried to the Church of England service, and being frequently taken to court at different assizes to be continually questioned, but was never freed from prison; he was removed to the Council of the Marches, and later in the year suffered torture at Bewdley and Bridgenorth before being sent back to Wrexham. There he remained a prisoner till the Autumn Assizes, when he was brought to trial on 9 October, found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed. Again his life was offered him on condition that he acknowledge the queen as supreme head of the Church. His wife and one of their children were brought to the courtroom and warned not to follow his example. She retorted that she would gladly die alongside her husband; she was sure, she said, that the judges could find enough evidence to convict her if they spent a little more money. She consoled and encouraged her husband to the last. He suffered on 15 October 1584. On the scaffold he stated that he recognised Elizabeth as his lawful queen but could not accept her as head of the Church in England.
Other saints: Saint Gall (- 646/650)
He was one of the twelve disciples who accompanied St Columbanus to Gaul, and established themselves with him at Luxeuil. Gall followed Columbanus on his voyage on the Rhine to Bregenz in 610, but he separated from him in 612, when Columbanus left for Italy. He remained in Swabia, where, with several companions, he led the life of a hermit, in a wilderness to the west of Bregenz, near the source of the river Steinach. After his death a church of St Gall was erected there, which by the middle of the eighth century had grown into the famous Abbey of St Gall.
Today's Gospel: "With all your mind"
Sometimes there is a message for us in some words of the Gospel that even the evangelists don’t notice. There is an example here, hidden in words so uninteresting that we can’t even be sure who said them. Matthew and Mark say Jesus, while Luke says the scribe.
Jesus (or the scribe) appears to be quoting from the Old Testament, but one phrase does not exist in any text of the Commandments: that we should love the Lord our God with all our mind.
It is easy not to notice this phrase, and indeed Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t notice it. We know this because normally when Jesus departs from the Old Testament it is noticed, and remarked upon, and made the subject of a whole “But I say to you…” discourse.
There are two aspects to this. One is what it says about the past, the other is what it says to us. The past is straightforward. The Jews have never been “people of the Book” in the sense of believing in the Bible and nothing but the Bible. They have, it is true, had a peculiar reverence for every sacred word, but they have lived not in unthinking obedience to those words alone but in a dialogue, you might even say in a relationship, with the sacred text. So the fact that “all your mind” appears here, without attracting notice or comment, must mean that it had become a part of the generally accepted interpretation of the words of Scripture. When, centuries after the Pentateuch, the Jews came across the new, Greek ways of thinking – as the Wisdom literature shows that they did – they immediately realised that this new thing called “mind” was included, no doubt about it, in the commandment to love.
What this says to us is more important than just a footnote in the history of ideas. It is the foundation and justification of all science. God does not command the impossible. If he is to be loved with the mind, that can only be because he is lovable with the mind, or, to detheologize the language, because Ultimate Being can be related to rationally. The Gospel phrase tells us that things make sense and that we have the equipment to make sense of them.
What does omnipotence mean? Does it mean that the Omnipotent can do anything at all? If that were true, all science would be at an end. If God willed that when I dropped a glass on the floor it would shatter, then even if God had willed the same whenever anyone in the past had ever dropped a glass, that would still not bind God. God would still be free to decide, if I dropped a glass on the floor now, that this particular glass, alone among all the glasses in history, should bounce and not break.
Which is to say: on this interpretation of divine omnipotence, science is impossible. We cannot predict the result of an experiment, because next time God may decide differently. We cannot even lay down laws of nature based on previous experience, because to call a law a “law” is to claim to be able to bind God, which is blasphemy.
This is not merely an academic quibble. When the 11th-century Muslim philosopher al-Ghazāli propounded this very idea, it captured the mainstream of Islamic thinking and led to the virtual suicide of science in Islam and the abandonment of rational thinking about the physical world, as being unnecessary, or sacrilegious, or both.
We are saved from this by this one little phrase in the Gospel, about loving God with all our mind. It is more than mere permission, it is a command to understand, to go out and do science, and it was followed whenever Christians had leisure to think. It led to the dazzling 13th-century renaissance and the birth of modern science, and we are still living through its consequences.
As for divine omnipotence, this is not the place to go into it in detail, but the answer to al-Ghazāli must surely be that God can indeed make the glass bounce, but God cannot make the glass bounce and still be God, since to break the laws and regularities of nature whimsically and without reason would be to abandon lovability-with-the-mind. This is exactly the argument that theologians use against pointless or frivolous miracles, but it applies to science as well, and to the possibility of doing science at all.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Maximus the Confessor (c.580 - 662)
Beginning life as a civil servant and rising to high office, Maximus saw the light and took monastic vows, at an unknown time and for unknown reasons, at the monastery of Philippicus in Chrysopolis, a city across the Bosporus from Constantinople (later known as Scutari, the modern Turkish city of Üsküdar). In due course he became the abbot there.
When the Persians conquered Anatolia, Maximus was forced to flee to a monastery near Carthage. It was there that he came under the tutelage of Saint Sophronius, and began studying in detail with him the Christological writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Dionysius the Areopagite. He applied rigorous Aristotelian logic to these writings to make their doctrine clearer, and harder to misunderstand.
The perennial argument in the East over the nature of Christ – whether true God and true man, or just a divinely commanded man-shaped puppet – flared up yet again, and this time both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople were on the latter side. Maximus taking the side of orthodoxy, he was arrested in Rome in 653, together with Pope Martin I. The Pope was condemned without a trial and died before he could be sent to Constantinople. Maximus was taken there to be tried as a heretic in 658 and was sentenced to four years’ exile. In 662 he was brought back and tried again, and this time his tongue was cut out so that he could no longer speak rebellion and his right hand cut off so that he could no longer write letters. He was exiled to a distant region of the empire, where he died on 13 August of the same year.
The passages from St Maximus which adorn the Office of Readings have nothing of these controversies in them, but are chosen to reflect for us the glory of the light of the events of our redemption.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 10:24,31 ©|
Nobody should be looking for his own advantage, but everybody for the other man’s. Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Colossians 3:17 ©|
Never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Colossians 3:23-24 ©|
Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving.