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Bible Reflections View Comments

Ordinary Saints
By Kathleen M. Carroll
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012
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It’s difficult to imagine the courage of those twelve men who left everything they knew, their families, homes and jobs—often at a moment’s notice—to follow Jesus. How much more courage must they have had, though, to leave him. Today’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus sending his disciples out into the world, to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, to expel demons. He doesn’t send them to his friends and relatives with letters of introduction. He doesn’t map out an itinerary for them, with comfortable lodging and good food. He doesn’t supply them with a suitcase of clothes or even an overnight bag. And he tells them to bring no money. Not a coin. Our reading skips over just how the apostles might have felt about all this. No mention of a vote on the issue. Not a lot of “what-ifs” or “yes-buts.” They just went.

We’ve all heard the slogan WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? And it can be an enjoyable mental exercise to think about how Jesus would handle our nosy neighbor, our thoughtless spouse, or our ill-mannered cat. But then we think, “Yes, but that was Jesus. What would a normal person do?” We should recall, though, that none of the apostles were chosen because of their stellar resumes. A few fishermen, a tax collector, a notorious doubter and some guy he found under a fig tree—these were Jesus’s choices. None of them were saintly when Jesus found them, some had great difficulty grappling with their faith (Peter, most notably), and one never got it right at all. They were all just ordinary men.

Consider, too, that the Israelites didn’t take a vote on who would be their next prophet, and there was not a long line of applicants for the job. One has only to recall the           enthusiasm of Jonah, who promptly took passage on a ship heading westward—in the
opposite direction from the city to which he was sent. Our First Reading brings home this point through the testimony of the prophet Amos. “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people.”

An old saying has it, “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” It is easy to understand how that dynamic might work in the life of St. Peter or Mother Teresa, but we still like to imagine ourselves exempt. We are, after all, just ordinary people.

In An Easy Way to Become a Saint, Paul O’Sullivan relates the story of Anthony the Abbot who, in answer to his prayer to learn humility, was instructed to visit two women in a
nearby town. Anthony asked about their spiritual practices; he was certain that they must have some particular devotion or a special way of fasting that was so pleasing to God. His questions and observations yielded nothing unusual, though. His conclusion was that “they performed their duties well and they loved God.”

Christ’s followers became saints in exactly the same way. They did what they were supposed to do as well as they could, and they did it for the love of God. An easy way to become a saint, indeed.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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