Saturday, May 19, 2007

St. Theophilus of Corte... and Rowan Williams

St. Theophilus of Corte, 1676-1740


I love this guy - more and more God seems to be bringing people like this to my attention. I think he may be trying to tell me something...

Anyway, the following account of his life is derived from the entry at Saint of the Day:

If we expect saints to do marvellous things continually and to leave us many memorable quotes, we are bound to be disappointed with St. Theophilus. The mystery of God's grace in a person's life, however, has a beauty all its own.

Theophilus was born in Corsica of rich and noble parents. As a young man he entered the Franciscans and soon showed his love for solitude and prayer. After admirably completing his studies, he was ordained and assigned to a retreat house near Subiaco. Inspired by the austere life of the Franciscans there, he founded other such houses in Corsica and Tuscany. Over the years, he became famous for his preaching as well as his missionary efforts.

Though he was always somewhat sickly, Theophilus generously served the needs of God's people in the confessional, in the sickroom and at the graveside. Worn out by his labours, he died on June 17, 1740. He was canonized in 1930.

There is something in the lives of all those we remember as saints that prompts them to find ever more selfless ways of responding to God's grace. As time went on, Theophilus gave more and more single hearted service to God and to God's sons and daughters. Studying the lives of the saints will make no sense unless we are thus drawn to live as generously as they did. Their holiness can never substitute for our own.

Francis used to say, "Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress" (1 Celano, #193).

Thinking about St Theophilus, and about Francis' remark, reminds me strongly of what I've been reading in Rowan Williams' wonderful little book Silence and Honey Cakes, where he speaks of the Desert Fathers' and Mothers' insistence on what they called nepsis, watchfulness. The same idea seems to be present there: our attentive awareness of ourselves, necessarily of our own sinfulness, turns us not inwards, but towards Christ and towards our sisters and brothers, whom we love with an ever-increasing openness and solidarity.

++Rowan has a passage I simply can't resist quoting in full:

"What is hard for us to grasp is that they [the desert nuns and monks] know with utter seriousness the cost to them of their sin and selfishness and vanity, yet know that God will heal and accept. That they know the latter doesn't in any way diminish the intensity with which they know the former; and their knowledge of the former is what gives them their almost shocking tenderness towards other sinners."

"Almost shocking tenderness..." Wouldn't that do as well for a description of our Lord's attitude to the sinners he encountered during his years on earth? (And my heart tells me that if it was true then, it is even more true now.)

If only we could truly live like that! Of course it wouldn't make us popular among the self-righteous, any more than it did for Jesus, but it would make possible what Rowan Williams calls "becoming a means of reconciliation and healing" for our neighbour - and that surely is what every one of us is called to do, one way or another...

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