The 7th Week 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 we would call today a dysfunctional family: both of 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, like the disciples in today’s Gospel. He constantly wrote and acted on impulse without thinking things through, letting his passions make war within him. Often he let his fiery temper get the better of him, as when his enthusiasm for staying awake to pray led to a bad case of insomnia. He could be severely critical of others. And yet throughout his life, we get the sense of a person who strongly desired to follow Christ and make the best of his shortcomings and weaknesses, especially by channeling his energies into writings. In the judgment of the Church, he is a saint and a doctor of the Church.
What is important for us is what St Peter Damian did with his poor family background and his character flaws. He did not waste time regretting his past or worrying about his weaknesses or being down on himself for his many obvious failings. If he had done that, he would have had few good deeds to show for it, and we would not remember him today.
Instead, he humbled himself before the Lord, who gives grace to the humble and calls everyone to holiness. To those who submit themselves to God, any negative experience of life can be seen as part of a very personal cross which a loving God has given us in order to draw us closer to him. Our way to him lies through our own personal cross, and it is useless to complain about how heavy it is, or to be forever examining it to find new reasons for self-pity. The saints never did that. They submitted themselves to God as they were, and made themselves the last of all and the servants of all.
And we can do the same. Draw near to God during the season of Lent, and he will draw near to you. Give up trying to be some other saint. Humbly take up your own 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 you do yourself. Follow the Son of Man in living no longer for yourself but for Christ who loved you, and handed himself over for you. You never need to bear your cross alone. Whenever you receive him in 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 the indescribable joy of a humble life, hidden with Christ in God.
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