TSD 14: A Short One

Direct from the beautiful Laurel Highlands

I’m in the Pennsylvania mountains with our friends and a passel of children, and the Internet connection isn’t as strong as I had hoped. So please forgive me for a truncated version of These Seven Days this week: only two entries for each form, and no link round-up.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The readings are Isaiah 66:10-14c, Galatians 6:14-18, and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.

It only makes sense, in the aftermath of Easter and the Ascension and Pentecost, that we should be presented with Christ’s teaching to His disciples about evangelization. This is a long and full reading, but I’m taken with the Church Fathers’ focus on the direction to first proclaim peace to whatever house we enter:

Peace is the mother of all good things, without it all other things are vain. Our Lord therefore commanded His disciples on entering a house first to pronounce peace as a sign of good things… (John Chrysostom)

Peace, not as the absence of conflict but the presence of harmony, should be foremost as we witness to the Faith in word and deed.

Thursday, July 11, is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia. The father of Western monasticism and the patron of Europe, Benedict is one of the most revered and consequential saints in Church history.

The abbot’s most enduring legacy is his Rule, which ordered monastic life for centuries and is the basis for all other post-Desert Fathers regulations of religious life. The Rule is of wide application: “The saint's purpose was not to institute an order of clerics with clerical duties and offices, but an organization and a set of rules for the domestic life of such laymen as wished to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel.” The popular perception that the Rule is strict and unyielding is an artifact of our time, not a piece of genuine historical-theological analysis:

In considering the leading characteristics of this Holy Rule, the first that must strike the reader is its wonderful discretion and moderation, its extreme reasonableness, and its keen insight into the capabilities as well as the weaknesses of human nature. Here are no excesses, no extraordinary asceticism, no narrow-mindedness, but rather a series of sober regulations based on sound common-sense.

Perhaps we might be so bold as to suggest that, of texts with “Benedict” in the title, the Rule should be the most popular and influential in the lives of modern Christians.

Totila, King of the Ostrogoths, pays reverence to St. Benedict. Painted by Spinello Aretino, c. late 14th century.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle is Romans 8:18-23 and the Gospel is Luke 5:1-11. The Venerable Bede has an interesting and harrowing reading of this selection from Luke, in which Christ fills Simon Peter’s fishing boat almost to collapsing:

But the filling of these ships goes on until the end of the world. But the fact that the ships, when filled, begin to sink, i. e. become weighed low down in the water; (for they are not sunk, but are in great danger,) the Apostle explains when he says, “In the last days perilous times shall come; men shall be lovers of their own selves, &c.” (2 Tim. 3:1, 2.) For the sinking of the ships is when men, by vicious habits, fall back into that world from which they have been elected by faith.

The focus in this reading is almost always on the miracle of abundance and the reaction of Simon (“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”), but Bede gives us a fascinating and relevant deeper reading of the symbolism of the scene.

From a sixth century mosaic in the Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. The surprised and concerned and freaked-out look on the faces of Simon and his companion is priceless.

Wednesday, July 10, is the feast of the Seven Holy Brothers. Piecing together information about this fascinating commemoration, which dates to the earliest days of the Church (second century), is something of a detective project. Here’s a few bits of information:

  • The seven martyred brothers are traditionally identified as Saints Martial, Alexander, Vitalis, Januarius, Felix, Philip, and Silanus. They are said to have been buried in four separate Roman catacombs.

  • The mother of the seven brothers has been identified both as St. Felicitas of Rome and as St. Symphorosa. They may be the same woman; they may be a conflation of multiple women; they may never have existed at all.

  • The Catholic Encyclopedia considers the evidence for the historicity of the accounts of the mothers and the details of the brothers’ martyrdoms to be weak. (It could be an importation of the story of the woman with seven sons in 2 Maccabees.) As far as I can tell, the existence of the seven brothers themselves is well-attested.

Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees by Antonio Ciseri, 1863.

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