Saturday, 9 August 2008

Feast of St Teresa Benedicta -- 9 August 2008

Homily for Saturday 9 August 2008, Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Readings: Esther 4:3-5, 12, 14; John 4:19-24

I need to say something about truth and money, truth because it is the feast of Edith Stein and money because that is what the chapter will be talking about this morning. But then truth is another kind of currency and money is another kind of truth.

One of the sayings of Edith Stein that is now often quoted is this: ‘my longing for truth was a single prayer’. The whole trajectory of her life is about truth, a search for truth that led her (to our encouragement) to become a Christian and a Catholic. Truth is the obsession, the preoccupation of her life. She is a philosopher and philosophy’s task is to search for truth wherever and however it might be found. There is a long tradition in the Church of encouraging the study of philosophy and in the Order too, of course, philosophy has always been studied. In one of the Eucharistic Prayers we pray ‘for all who seek God with a sincere heart’. Wherever people seek truth we believe that it must lead them eventually to Christ who is the Truth. It may take a long time and it may involve many meanderings but we believe that that is where the search for truth must lead, that is where this appetite in us will be satisfied.

When Edith Stein read the autobiography of Teresa of Avila, staying up all night to finish it, she said at the end – so it is reported – ‘this is the truth’. And so she became a Christian and a Catholic and eventually a Carmelite. For ten years she lived and worked with the Dominican sisters at Speyer. One of the things she did during those years was to translate Thomas Aquinas’s questions De veritate, the first German translation of this work, I believe. Her final work, left unfinished at the time of her arrest, was on the knowledge of the cross, scientia crucis, the point to which her search for truth had led her.

In honouring Edith Stein we honour one of the greatest women of the 20th century, one who is already being spoken about as a doctor of the Church. We honour a woman whose life is completely given to the search for truth, who accepted whatever that search led to, no matter what it involved for her personally.

Now a word about money. The Dominicans were as concerned about poverty at the beginning as the Franciscans were. Poverty was as central to the early Dominican movement as it was to the Franciscan one but for a different reason. For the Franciscans, poverty was an end in itself, Lady Poverty and all that. Very quickly, though, they found themselves in big disagreements with each other about poverty, the poverty of Christ, and so on.

The Dominicans were just as concerned about poverty but because of its significance for the mission of preaching the gospel. In order to preach the Word they had to be free, uncluttered, not tied down, and ready to move. This is how preachers of the gospel must live: they are to be free for its service. Thomas Aquinas speaks of this in how he describes the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus, he says, was the first Dominican (not in as many words but the implication is clear). The Franciscans seemed to have ‘another Jesus’ in St Francis, and the Dominicans retaliated by considering Jesus ‘the first Dominican’. Thomas says that Jesus lived simply and poorly because this is how preachers of the gospel ought to live. They need to be free and available for its service. The credibility of their preaching requires a simple way of living. Jesus lived this way ut daret exemplum praedicatoribus, in order to give an example to preachers: we can guess who he might be thinking of when he refers to ‘praedicatoribus’.

We can look across also at Paul. He says that he knows how to be rich and he knows how to be poor and this is the attitude we ought to aim for. The focus in all cases is the preaching of the gospel and how our material resources help or hinder that. If we are too poor that is a problem for preaching the gospel and if we are too rich that is another kind of problem for preaching the gospel. Some parts of the Order are hampered in their mission because they do not have enough money but other parts of the Order are hampered because they have too much money.

It is important to talk about money and it is not just a necessary evil. We must embrace it! It is part of embodiment, part of what is involved in human relations in a world that is physical and material. To speak of Paul again: he moves without any difficulty from talking about the highest theological and spiritual realities to talking about money. So he devotes a lot of space in his letters to talking about the collection for the community in Jerusalem. To the Philippians and the Corinthians he mentions this and explains how this very practical way of helping the church at Jerusalem is linked with grace, the gift they have received in Christ. The one who was rich became poor so that we who were poor might become rich – now help the community in Jerusalem with your money. The highest theological and spiritual gift is connected with the practical help Christian communities can show each other. It is just the next stage in the development of the Church. We like to quote the romantic texts from Acts about the earliest community having all things in common. Paul’s concern with the collection is the next stage of this: even though the communities are now spread across the Mediterranean they still ought to share their material resources.

But notice how Paul moves without hesitation from the highest theological ideas, the grace of God in Christ Jesus, to the very practical business of collecting money. It is such high theological and spiritual ideas that ought also to inform our reflection about money. But we cannot live a life that is purely spiritual: the life we live is embodied, physical and material. Economic relationships are part of that.

So these are some thoughts, about truth and money and grace.

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