Sep 17 – Memorial for St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor
Robert (1542-1621) wrote the most complete work of his day to defend Catholicism against Protestant attack. He also wrote a children’s catechism and a catechism for teachers. As cardinal-priest, he gave most of his money to the poor. At one point he used the tapestries in his living quarters to clothe the poor, saying that “the walls won’t catch cold”.
He was involved in settling various disputes including that of King James I and the Vatican in 1607 and 1609 concerning control of the Church in England, action against Galileo Galilei with whom he established a friendly correspondence, but was forced to deliver the order for the scientist to submit to the Church, and issues concerning clerical discipline and Vatican authority. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 17 September 1931.
1 Timothy 3:1-13
Here is a saying that you can rely on: To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble wok. That is why the president must have an impeccable character. He must not have been married more than once, and he must be temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher; not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable. He must not be a lover of money. He must be a man who manages his own family well and brings his children up to obey him and be well-behaved: how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God? He should not be a new convert, in case pride might turn his head and then he might be condemned as the devil was condemned. It is also necessary that people outside the Church should speak well of him, so that he never gets a bad reputation and falls into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons must be respectable men whose word can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first, and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, the women must be respectable, not gossips but sober and quite reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once, and must be men who manage their children and families well. Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and be rewarded with great assurance in their work for the faith in Christ Jesus.
Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.
Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience
Archbishop William once shared at a retreat, that of all the 7 deadly sins, the greatest is pride, followed very closely by vanity; that all of humanity succumbs to these sins and many a good soul has been lost by their deadly effects. Surprising? Insightful? Not really. We have only to consider Lucifer to know that these were precisely the two great sins and temptations that got him (and one third of the angels) thrown out from heaven. Consider seriously, how pervasive these temptations are and how real they are within our own spiritual struggles. Allow me, in this sharing, to dwell on how these temptations can also specifically undermine the very basis and foundations of our worship of God, especially during the Eucharistic celebration.
Max Lucado once said, “seek not the adulation of men but the applause of heaven”. My theme and sharing today is drawn from the first reading, which paints the virtues and qualities needed in Catholic leadership and in the context of ministering to the community and in Catholic worship. God demands perfection from us. He knows he’s not going to get it but He nevertheless demands it of us. However, I believe the perfection he seeks for us is not in doing things perfectly and faultlessly, but rather, from the standpoint of absolute authenticity and sincerity when we worship and serve Him. God seeks perfection not in terms of what we do but why we do it. That this must stem only from one motive alone – our sincere and authentic love for Him and through that love, our love and service for others. Many, if not almost all of us will fall short of this perfection but heaven is a place where only Saints are worthy to be in. And only the Saints in heaven are perfect, as God is perfect.
Before I dwell more on the issue of authenticity of service, especially in Eucharistic celebration, allow me to say that whilst I will probably be quite judgmental in my comments and observations, I do not absolve myself of guilt in the behaviors I will be commenting on. I was, and still am, guilty of some of them. Pride and vanity tempt all of us. I hold to the view that at Holy Mass, there is only one person that must to be glorified and worshipped – God. But yet, I can’t deny that I do find some who serve during Mass competing with God for attention and glory. Those who seem to have the notion that Mass is a stage where they get to perform and showcase their talents, or their ‘beauty’ or their intelligence or their wealth or their ‘authority’ or their ‘power’. Lectors and cantors, Altar Servers, Choir Masters, Eucharistic Ministers, Wardens, at times even the Priests themselves – the way they sometimes go about doing what they do, the way they dress, they way they are made up, the way they exercise their authority when giving Communion or directing movement in Church, they seem to be bringing attention and glory to themselves. It seems to be very much about them and not about creating the circumstances and atmosphere that can help all to come to an authentic encounter with God and community as one body of Christ, which is what the Eucharistic Celebration is intended to be. Yes, undoubtedly, our eyes and heart should be fixed on God and not on the people around us. Allowing ourselves to be distracted, agitated and frustrated is very much indicative of our own imperfections and weakness. Nevertheless, when we serve, we should all consciously try to bring less of ourselves to glory during Mass and allow God this privilege instead.
My sharing is titled, “The devil loves attention” … perhaps in small, insidious ways, by tempting us who serve in Liturgical ministries, to focus attention on ourselves during the Eucharistic Celebration, the devil gets to achieve exactly the effect of taking attention and glory away from God, which is the purpose and summit of our faith – the Eucharistic worship, communion and adoration of God’s love for us and in the sacrifice of Jesus, His Son, for us. The devil, the master deceiver, is far more subtle and insidious than simply expecting attention to be given to him. Instead, he prefers that we give attention to ourselves. He whispers ever so subtly into our ears… “go ahead, grab your moment of glory, you deserve that for all the hard work and sacrifice you have put into serving the Church all these years – show the people how beautiful your voice is, how expensive that suit you are wearing, how important that role you are serving at the Altar, how eloquent the way you speak, how honorable the seat that has been reserved for you.
The devil loves attention…but do not give him the satisfaction. Be conscious of how he attacks us at our weakest — our pride and vanity, in order to deny the graces that God wants to give us. Battle him by constantly questioning and checking our own authenticity and sincerity in service to God and the Church, especially during the Eucharistic Celebration.
If you listen carefully, in the distance, you may be able to hear the sound of applause for you. But it’s not very distinct… can’t quite make out if the applause is coming from the Saints in heaven or from the poor souls in the other place. Can you?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us. Save us from the desire of being esteemed or extoled or honored or that others may be loved more than ourselves. Save those of us who have the privilege of serving in Ministry from the sin of arrogance and vain-glory. Give us, instead, a true spirit of humility to know it is You whom we serve and the authenticity to serve you humbly and with great love for You.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all whom you have blessed Holy Mother Church, who serve with sincere hearts and authentic love for You and Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Thank you for the inspiration they bring and for the way by their example, to experience Your true presence and unfailing love.