One of the criticisms that has been levelled at the Church over the centuries is that her members do not practice what they preach. Unfortunately, there has often been a certain amount of truth in the claim. At the time of the reformation especially the need for actions and words to be closely allied was very acute – and not all Catholics were exemplary by any means.
The saint we celebrate on Wednesday was ordained at the absurdly early age of 20 and for a while simply wanted a life of ease and pleasure. However, through the influence of the Counter-Reformation saints he became one of the greatest saints that France has ever produced.
Vincent de Paul was born in Gascony in 1580 and died in Paris in 1660. After his own acceptance of the gospel message in earnest he brought thousands of others to the same reality. He founded religious congregations that put the practical love of the poor above all else. In his dealings with Protestants he insisted that they were brothers in Christ. Wherever Vincent perceived need he saw an opportunity to serve Christ.
On Thursday we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew the evangelist. It is to Matthew that we owe the story of the wise men coming to the infant Christ and the desire of Herod to destroy him. But it is also Matthew’s gospel that is most concerned to show us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament. Matthew quoted the OT more than the other evangelists and is keen to use phrases such as ‘this was to fulfil the scriptures’.
All in all Matthew emphasises the Jewishness of Jesus and in so doing reminds us of his birth into a particular time and place. This is an important reminder to us of the nature of our faith. We do not believe in an ideology or a philosophical system, a god who is remote from us or a deity who is manifested in various ways. We believe in God who has been made fully known in the man Jesus Christ, the man who is also the second person of the divine trinity. We believe in an incarnate God who walked and talked and lived among us. Matthew reminds us of the human roots of this God. We should relish learning about the Old Testament and about Judaism because in learning more about them we learn more about Jesus.
Today we celebrate the lovely feast day of the Nativity of Our Lady. We recall Mary’s birth to her humble and pious parents Saints Joachim and Anne. But as well as celebrating her birth we are bringing into focus all the things that formed Our Lady as a young child.
As good and pious Jews Joachim and Anne would have wanted Mary to have knowledge of the scriptures. One of the loveliest depictions of St Anne is her teaching the infant Mary to read. It’s often depicted in paintings and in statues in our churches. Mary in her turn would have taught the infant Jesus, the Word incarnate, how to read.
As educators we are called to open up children’s minds. One of the most wonderful experiences a teacher has is when a child starts to read, either at a young age or perhaps sometimes after a great struggle later on. There is something clearly of God in that enlightenment. Reading opens up the world to us, imagine how lost we would be without that ability.
As we begin a new academic year let’s pause and begin it with Mary, Mother of the Word of God. On this, the feast of her nativity, let us ask her prayers that we may be the best of educators.