Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, June 06, 2005

The suffering of the saints

Over the weekend, my attention was drawn to the plight of children in Zimbabwe under the dreadful Mugabe regime. In a week when the press has also been concentrating on the suffering of Africa and my mind still full of the images of the poor and oppressed in the Philippines (photo above shows shanty-homes under a bridge which I used to visit), I was struck by how apt this morning's reading at Mass was:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves... And our hope for you is confident, since we know that, sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolations." (2 Cor 1:3, 7)

This solidarity of suffering and consolation which St Paul describes is called the communion of saints, for he often refers to the Christian people as God's saints. The article about Zimbabwe from the 'Daily Telegraph' featured the efforts of a Sr Walsh, OP and the Dominican sisters in their work of alleviating the distress of the poor. This brought another dimension of the communion of saints to me - the communion of the Dominican family, and I share in a special way her sufferings and pain. I recall the letter we received from Mosul in Iraq over Christmas last year and the sufferings experienced there. I read the letters of fr Timothy Radcliffe and the many Dominicans he visited who were struggling to praise, to bless and to preach in the midst of great hardship and suffering. To them all, I spiritually unite myself, I share their tears and offer the consolation of prayer.

I also have the full text of a letter from Sr Patricia Walsh, OP. If you would like to receive it by email or would like me to post it on this blog, please let me know. Or you can click on this link to the Dominican Life magazine.

On another note, I have also been thinking about the Church's canonised saints. They too suffer in another way. Looking at many hagiographies and biographies of the saints, it struck me that they all so (literally) madly in love with God that they seem to suffer from a form of madness. At least, to us 21st century people, their passion and zeal for souls and the Gospel can come across as madness, especially the severity of their self-mortification and penances... It's worth musing on: to what degree could one say that (some of) the saints were insane, at least by our modern-day standards? I believe one could argue a good case for sanctity as a form of madness, being consumed so totally by the love of God...

Another thing the saints suffer is a strange kind of disregard for their dignity after death. I say this because the Servant of God, John Paul II requested that all his personal documents etc be burned after his death. Yet, his secretary, the Archbishop-Elect of Krakow has said that he refuses to do this because the writings are invaluable. I agree with him on this, because posterity would value the writings of this saint... but it is an affront to the wishes of the man. But it seems that saints do not get the basic respect for their wishes in death that other mere mortals do...

And of course, in the past, most saints had their mortal remains chopped up and distributed as relics, a practice quite abhorrent to the modern mind. I understand the venerable tradition of relics but it does seem a little odd to cut off a saint's little finger and send it to a church to be put on display. One of the most discomforting sights I had was the (shrivelled) head of St Catherine of Siena in the Sto Domingo church in Siena, Italy. Her head was placed in a shrine and if one dropped a coin in a machine, a light went on literally overhead as music played. It was quite macabre! The poor Dominican saint's body lies under the altar at Sta Maria Minerva in Rome. Such dismembering of a corpse would be quite unacceptable in normal circumstances but it seems this is just yet another type of suffering a saint has to put up with!


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