The liturgy of the church leads us into the mystery of Jesus Christ. It’s also leads us into the mystery of the Church, which it does especially through the saints who are celebrated over the church year.
This week we celebrated the feasts of St. Lawrence, St. Clare, St. Jane Francis de Chantal, Saint Teresa Benedicta and St. Maximilian Kolbe, who lived at different times and in different places, from early 3rd Rome to 20th century Europe, but each sheds light on the mystery of the church. What do they tell us?
St. Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman church in the middle of the turbulent 3rd century. What does he tell us? If we see only the colorful story of his martyrdom we may miss a larger story – namely, the church, like Jesus Christ, dies and rises again.
Four days before his death on August 10, 258, Pope Sixtus and four deacons were seized and executed in the catacombs of St. Callistus. Their death, followed by Lawrence’s death and the Roman government’s appropriation of church’s resources deprived the church of its leaders and left it penniless. Yet the church emerged from that critical time stronger and attracting more members than ever before.
The lesson? The church, like Jesus Christ, dies and rises. A message for all time, but perhaps more important for our time.
What does St. Clare tell us? She founded a religious community in the 13th century that drew together women from all ranks of society; from royalty to the poorest peasants. Historians see an early advocate of women’s rights in her time.
What can we learn from her? The church engages the society it lives in. It gets involved in its issues and brings it her gifts.
What do SaintsTeresa Benedicta and Maximilian Kolbe, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942, tell us? The church always enters the suffering of its time, no matter how unexplainable or evil it is.
What does Saint Jane Frances de Chantal tell us? Like Clare of Assisi, she founded a religious community for women, the Visitandines, influenced by St. Francis de Sales and his spiritual teaching. As a widow with children she wished to explore a new model for religious life, one less rigorous than older models, where women together could pursue a devout life and serve their neighbor. Though she had to settle for a more structured church model, Jane Frances de Chantel brought new life to the church.
She tells us that the church is meant to explore new ways and new structures in its path through this world.
The saints open the mystery of the church to us.