Message: St. Bede evidences the trust in God that St. Paul describes.
Last week I began a homily series titled Trust No Matter What. Trust. Trust God. Trust God no matter what. We saw the example of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. Suspended upside down by a rope, he experienced a torment that increased as the hours passed. Lorenzo's torturers told him the trial could stop if he renounced Christ. Lorenzo replied that if he had a thousand lives, he would give them all for Jesus. Those words express trust no matter what.
Today I give an example from a different place and a different time: Northern England at the end of the seventh century. It involves a boy named Bede. Not "bead" (b-e-a-d) as in a rosary, but the proper name, Bede (b-e-d-e). When he was seven his parents sent him to a monastery. For the next seven years he did chores, studied and joined in the hours of community prayer. In 686 a plague swept through that part of England. It killed everyone in the monastery except Bede and the monk Ceolfrith.*
The boy realized he had been spared - but for what? At first he and Fr. Ceolfrith spent their time burying the dead and praying the hours: six in the morning, nine, noon, 3 pm, 6, night prayer about 8 - and then rising in the middle of the night around 3 am to pray again.
Little by little other men, survivors of the plague, began to join them. They took up the work of farming and copying manuscripts. Historians have a document from 692 showing that the monastery obtained land for 2000 head of cattle. Why 2000? That was the number needed to make enough cowhide vellum for the three Bibles that Abbot Ceolfrith commissioned.
What happened to Bede's monastery reflects what we heard today from Isaiah: First, God reducing his vineyard to ruin by plague, then slowly rebuilding. As the Psalm says, "Take care of this vine and protect what your right hand has planted."
God spared Bede but for what? For sure to rebuild the monastery and carry on the task of preserving the Bible and the great works of the ancient world. But for Bede God had an additional purpose: to compile a history of the English people. Without Bede's history we would not know the roots of the English nation which are also the roots of our country which branched from England.
The big story is how the English peoples moved from paganism to Christianity. In one chapter Bede tells how a local king named Edwin became Christian. Gathered in a mead hall (a large building with a single room) with his soldiers and nobles, King Edwin listened to accounts of the new religion. As the log fire burned, a sparrow entered one side and quickly flew out the other side. Bede recounts how one councilor reflected that our life is like the flight of that sparrow.** We do not know its origin nor do we know where it goes as it disappears into the darkness. That reflection helped Edwin not only to embrace Christ, but to become a model king. Bede gives this summary of his reign:
"Wherever King Edwin’s power extended, as is said proverbially right up to today, even if a woman with a recently born child wanted to walk across the whole island, from sea to sea, she could do so without anyone harming her."
With these Christian roots England developed a culture which brought us writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare, literary works like Beowulf and Lord of the Rings, scientists like Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton, Christian writers like Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. The English were hardly all saints and their history has shameful chapters (as does our own), but they at least partially fulfilled Jesus' words that we heard today, "A people that will produce much fruit." Through Bede we know the roots of that culture.
Saint Bede made another contribution that I alluded to last week. On September 21, 1953, a boy in Argentina was setting out to celebrate Student Day. (September 21 is the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere.) On his way to the celebration he felt drawn to a church. A priest was in the confessional and the boy entered. We don't know what the boy said to the priest or the priest to the boy, but it changed his life. He left the confessional knowing that God was calling him to the priesthood. The 16-year-old was Jorge Bergoglio who is now Pope Francis. Well, September 21 is the Feast of St. Matthew and the reading for that day comes from St. Bede. Bede says that Jesus looked at Matthew with mercy and then called him. Pope Francis took those words for his coat of arms. In Bede's original Latin: "Miserando atque Eligendo." The English translation reads that Jesus "saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him." Do those words of Bede not sum up Pope Francis' message: mercy and election?
Mercy and election also describe the life of St. Bede.*** Spared from the plague he recognized God singling him out for a mission. Next week I will tell you about a youth who, in the midst of terrible loss, heard God's call. He's a man of our time. Some call him "The Man of the Century." But the most important thing about him is his trust in God no matter what. That will be next week.
Today I want to leave you with this image: A man who, in spite of his early traumas, could calmly contemplate the flight of a sparrow and reflect on the brevity of human existence.**** St. Bede evidences the trust in God that St. Paul describes today, "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Amen.
**For this homily I am indebted to Professor Dorsey Armstrong's Great Minds of the Medieval World. She has a very fine lecture on Bede.
**He lived a fairly long life - 62 years - and died surrounded by monks. In two weeks I will tell about a man who had a shorter life - brutally murdered at the age of 37.
***Some have surmised that he was an irritable and angry man. As far as I can make out, his rhetoric against those on an opposing side is somewhat standard for ancient authors. (Their writings sometimes sound like an internet war of words.) Since he has title "Venerable Bede" it sounds clever to refer to him as the "Venomous Bede." Like someone calling General Ulysses Grant, "Useless Grant." President Lincoln would hardly agree.
cartoon for bulletin:
Trust No Matter What Week 1:
Trust No Matter What Week 2:
Trust No Matter What Week 3:
Trust No Matter What Week 4:
Trust No Matter What Week 5:
From Archives (for Twenty-seventh Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru