21 Apr – Memorial of Saint Anselm of Canterbury
Born to the Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, at age 15 Anselm wanted to enter religious life, but his father Gondulf prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon the death of his mother, Ermenberge, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France in 1056, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy in 1060. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as prior of the house in 1063. Abbot of the house in 1078.
Because of the physical closeness and political connections, there was frequent travel and communication between Normandy and England, and Anselm was in repeated contact with Church officials in England. He was chosen as reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, England in 1092; officials had to wait until he too sick to argue in order to get him to agree.
As bishop he fought King William Rufus’s encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independence of the Church, refused to pay bribes to take over as bishop, and was exiled for his efforts. He travelled to Rome, Italy and spent part of his exile as an advisor to Pope Blessed Urban II, obtaining the pope‘s support for returning to England and conducting Church business without the king‘s interference. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at Council of Bari in 1098.
In 1100 King Henry II invited Anselm to return to England, but they disputed over lay investiture, and Anselm was exiled again only to return in 1106 when Henry agreed not to interfere with the selection of Church officials. Anselm opposed slavery, and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He strongly supported celibate clergy, and approved the addition of several saints to the liturgical calendar of England.
Anselm was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the middle ages, and a noted theological writer. He was far more at home in the monastery than in political circles, but still managed to improve the position of the Church in England. Counsellor to Pope Gregory VII. Chosen a Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.
Stephen said to the people, the elders and the scribes: ‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’
They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.
They people said to Jesus, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’
‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:
‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’
You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it
Here in Singapore, we are probably about as law-abiding as they come in terms of a citizenry. And since the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, there have been many articles about how his method of running the country was necessary in the face of various challenges, both externally and within the country. His was an iron fist that tolerated no corruption nor dissension and Singapore is where it is today on the world stage because of the efforts of his team.
Each time we renew our baptismal vows and exhort ‘I do’ in answer to whether we renounce the devil and his works, I wonder to myself, “But hang on. You just committed a sin yesterday. And yet here you are saying ‘I do’.” Brothers and sisters, this is the dilemma that we, as sinners, find ourselves in on an almost daily basis. Yet in my heart, I know that my heavenly Father – the God who so loved me that He gave His only son to die for me – is not keeping score each time I sin.
For He knows that we are fallen creatures, born with original sin in us and that each time we visit Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are renewed. As long as we are sincere and contrite. I do not for one second believe that we are like the high priests that St Stephen was preaching to, ‘stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.’ (Acts 7:51a). All of us are searching for love and truth. As humans, our lives are but a daily quest for purpose and meaning. And at the end of every day, we are given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and to wake up the next day refreshed and renewed in spirit, knowing that God understands our frailties and forgives us our sins.
I was touched by what Fr Jude said at the end of his homily at Good Friday mass, when he reached out to those Catholics who, for one reason or another, had stayed away from church and were making their ‘annual pilgrimage’ on this holy day. With open arms, he welcomed them and encouraged them to come back into the community because no son or daughter of God deserves to be alone in their suffering. We all have sinned and ‘broken the law’ more than a few times in our lives. Yet God, in His generosity and love, continues to love us and to knock on the door of our hearts. Because all He wants is to embrace us and to welcome us into His kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, what more can we ask from our heavenly Father?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: We pray Lord, that in your mercy, you teach us to forgive and forget just as you do each time we confess our transgressions to you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your everlasting mercy and compassion.