- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

February 21, 2019

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

6th Thursday in Ordinary Time
St. Peter Damian

Every so often in the history of the Church, we come across saints whose list of failings and shortcomings is far more impressive to us than their virtues. St Jerome is the classic example in the fourth century, and St Peter Damian is an example from the eleventh century. He came from what today we would call a dysfunctional family: both his parents died when he was very young, and he was brought up by a brother who treated him more like a slave than a family member.

Besides this unhealthy background, he had a number of character flaws: he loved to argue, constantly wrote and acted on impulse without thinking things through, and often let his enthusiasm for something get the better of him, as when he stayed awake for too long in order to pray, and that led to a bad case of insomnia. He could be severely critical of others, as when he wrote about the moral life of his fellow priests, and called his work, not very tactfully, the Book of Gomorrah.

What is valuable for us is what this future saint did with his poor family background and his character flaws. Peter Damian did not waste any time regretting his past or worrying about his weaknesses or condemning himself for his many obvious failings. He knew that God calls everyone to holiness, and no one is excluded, no matter what their childhood was like, or whatever they inherited from their parents. Even the “Son of Man had to suffer greatly and be rejected” by others, but Christ today thought of this not as human beings do, but as God does.

Our own way to God is also a way of the cross. “If any want to be followers of mine”, Jesus says in another Gospel, “let them renounce themselves”. Don’t make a poor self-image worse by continually thinking about it. Renounce all efforts to deny your faults or experience of evil. Give up trying to be somebody else. Take up your cross, because your cross is your only way to God. He has carefully designed it to be exactly what you need, and he knows you better than anyone else.

“And follow me”, says the Lord. Follow the Son of Man, and St Peter Damian and all the saints, in living no longer for yourself but for Christ who loved you, and carried his cross before you and for you. You never need to bear your cross alone. Whenever you receive him in holy communion, he lends his shoulder to your cross, his blood bleeds where you do, his soul experiences your anguish, and his divinity makes your suffering holy.

Share your cross with him, complete what is lacking in his sufferings for the Church, and learn for yourself, as St Peter Damian did, the indescribable joy of a life hidden with Christ in God.