Indeed, how good is the Lord: bless his holy name.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: Green.
St Rose of Lima (1586 - 1617)
She was born in Lima, in Peru. She lived a life of selflessness and devotion from an early age. She refused to marry, and became a Dominican tertiary at the age of 20. Her asceticism and her intense spiritual experiences excited the criticism of her friends and family and the suspicion of the Church authorities.
She cared for the sick, the poor, Indians, and slaves.
She was the first person in the Americas to be canonized, and is a patron saint of South America.
Other saints: Saint Eugene (- c.618)
Eoghan or Eugene of Ardstraw was a native of Leinster, and, after presiding over the Abbey of Kilnamanagh (Co. Wicklow) for fifteen years, settled in the valley of Mourne (Co. Tyrone), his mother’s country, about the year 576. He was followed by many disciples. He was consecrated first Bishop of Ardstraw in about 581. His name is generally latinised as Eugenius, but the Irish form is Eoghan (Owen), hence Tir Eoghain, or Tyrone.
Other saints: St John Wall (1620-1679)
John Wall was born 1620 near Preston in Lancashire. He was the son of wealthy and staunch Lancashire Catholics. He was sent to Douai for his schooling. He enrolled at the English College in Rome in 1641 (as John Marsh, one of various aliases he used during his ministry), was ordained priest in 1645 and sent to the English mission in 1648. In 1651 he received the Franciscan habit at St Bonaventure’s Friary, Douai. He returned to England some years later, and worked as a priest for more than twenty years, mainly based at Harvington Hall in Worcestershire. He was arrested in December 1678 during the flurry following the Titus Oates Plot, at Rushock Court near Bromsgrove, where the sheriff’s man came to seek a debtor. Once it was clear that he was a priest, he was ordered to take the Oath of Supremacy; on refusing to do so he was committed to Worcester. He was tried on the charges of receiving and exercising his priesthood, and of refusing the oaths. He was duly sentenced to death, and sent to London. On being sentenced he said: “Thanks be to God; God save the King; and I beseech God to bless your lordship and all this honourable bench” Under further questioning he was offered his life if he would abjure his religion. He later wrote: “I told them I would not buy my life at so dear a rate as to wrong my conscience.” He was brought back to Worcester, and was executed at Redhill. His quartered body was given to his friends, and was buried in St Oswald’s churchyard. The long speech he composed for his execution was circulated among Catholics after his death; and the authorities issued as a broadsheet the public account of his execution containing “a true copy of the speech…with animadversions upon the same”.
Other saints: Saint John Wall (1620-1679)
John Wall came from a Norfolk gentry family but was born in Lancashire in 1620. His parents were fervent Catholics and sent him, when he was thirteen, to Douai College in northern France; from there he went to the English College in Rome and was ordained priest at 25. He then joined the Franciscan Order at the friary at Douai. When he was 36 he was sent secretly to England to work as a priest in Worcestershire. For 22 years he ministered to Catholics, moving from place to place, often using an assumed name to avoid capture. In 1678 he was arrested at Rushock Court near Bromsgrove as part of the scare caused by the fictitious “Popish Plot”. He was condemned to death at the Worcester Spring Assizes in 1679 and was hanged, drawn and quartered on Red Hill at Worcester on 22 August 1679. In his speech at the gallows he said: “I will offer my life in satisfaction for my sins and for the Catholic cause. I beseech God... to turn our captivity into joy; that they who sow in tears may reap in joy”. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs.
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 Ambrose of Milan (340? - 397)
Ambrose was born in Trier (now in Germany) between 337 and 340, to a Roman family: his father was praetorian prefect of Gaul. Ambrose was educated at Rome and embarked on the standard cursus honorum of Roman advocates and administrators, at Sirmium, the capital of Illyria. In about 372 he was made prefect of Liguria and Emilia, whose capital was Milan.
In 374 the bishopric of Milan fell vacant and when Ambrose tried to pacify the conflict between the Catholics and Arians over the appointment of a new bishop, the people turned on him and demanded that he become the bishop himself. He was a layman and not yet baptized (at this time it was common for baptism to be delayed and for people to remain for years as catechumens), but that was no defence. Coerced by the people and by the emperor, he was baptized, ordained, and installed as bishop within a week, on 7 December 374.
He immediately gave his money to the poor and his land to the Church and set about learning theology. He had the advantage of knowing Greek, which few people did at that time, and so he was able to read the Eastern theologians and philosophers as well as those of the West.
He was assiduous in carrying out his office, acting with charity to all: a true shepherd and teacher of the faithful. He was unimpressed by status and when the Emperor Theodosius ordered the massacre of 7,000 people in Thessalonica, Ambrose forced him to do public penance. He defended the rights of the Church and attacked the Arian heresy with learning, firmness and gentleness. He also wrote a number of hymns which are still in use today.
Ambrose was a key figure in the conversion of St Augustine to Catholicism, impressing Augustine (hitherto unimpressed by the Catholics he had met) by his intelligence and scholarship. He died on Holy Saturday, 4 April 397.
Liturgical colour: green
The theological virtue of hope is symbolized by the colour green, just as the burning fire of love is symbolized by red. Green is the colour of growing things, and hope, like them, is always new and always fresh. Liturgically, green is the colour of Ordinary Time, the season in which we are being neither especially penitent (in purple) nor overwhelmingly joyful (in white).
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Romans 12:17,19-20,21 ©|
Never repay evil with evil. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine – I will pay them back, says the Lord. But there is more: If your enemy is hungry, you should give him food, and if he is thirsty, let him drink. Resist evil and conquer it with good.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 John 3:16 ©|
This has taught us love – that he gave up his life for us; and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers.
|Afternoon reading (None)||1 John 4:9-11 ©|
God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.