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Summary: In this age of countless people seeking nothing but pleasure and wealth, we need the spirit of St. Colette, the spirit of Jesus.

Thursday of 4th Sunday in Course 2019

Saint Colette of Corbie

The letter to the Hebrews is a fairly long book in the New Testament, but much of it has the character of a sermon or homily. There are exhortations, particularly to regular attendance at the “assembly” or Eucharist. And here today, in chapter 12, we see what might be called a homily on the narrative in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy where Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. The early Hebrew tribes were so terrified by the theophany–thunder and lightning and fire and darkness–that they asked Moses to pray that God would not speak directly to them any more. They asked that God would speak to Moses as an intermediary, a kind of prophet. And so that is the beginning of prophecy.

But Hebrews tells us that when we gather together at Mass, we are not coming to Mount Sinai, but rather to the heavenly Jerusalem where Jesus, not Moses, is the host. At the Eucharist, we are celebrating a foretaste of the heavenly banquet–the eternal banquet–with the assembly of the first-born saints, the martyrs and apostles and virgins of the first centuries of the Christian era. Countless angels are here as well. It is a celebration led by the great high priest, Jesus Christ, of whom we clergy are just unworthy representatives.

That turn of phrase is fleshed out in today’s Gospel, recalling the moment when Jesus sent His disciples out on their first missionary task. They are to imitate Christ Himself, poor and humble and meek. They are to dress minimally, and to depend on the charity of those they are sharing the Gospel with. They are to preach repentance from sin, as Jesus did. And they drove out demons and anointed with oil those who were sick, and–like Jesus–healed them. This is the fundamental call of the Christian life–to spread the Gospel of repentance and healing.

The thirteenth century of the Church’s history was an amazing time of growth and sanctity–with the disciples of St Dominic, like Thomas Aquinas, and of St. Francis and St. Clare providing models for priests, religious and lay people to follow. But the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which we associate with the Renaissance in secular history, were not great times for the Church. The Crusades had failed, and Ottoman Islam was pounding at the doors of Europe, expanding by wholesale murder. The papacy was in crisis. Because of the power of the French throne, the pope had left Rome and had court in southern France, at Avignon At one time there were three competing popes.

Into this mess, in January, 1381, was born the baby girl who would be today’s saint, Colette of Corbie. “Her contemporary biographers say that her parents had grown old without having children, before praying to Saint Nicholas for help in having a child. Their prayers were answered when, at the age of 60, Marguerite gave birth to a daughter. Out of gratitude, they named the baby [Nicolette] after the saint to whom they credited the miracle of her birth.” As a result, St. Colette “is venerated as the patron saint of women seeking to conceive, expectant mothers and sick children.”

Colette joined the Benedictine order as a lay sister, probably “to avoid an arranged marriage,” but desired a lifestyle in religion closer to that of Christ. In 1402, “Collete received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis and became a hermit under the direction of the Abbot of Corbie, living near the abbey church. After four years of following this ascetic way of life. . .through several dreams and visions she came to believe that she was being called to reform the Franciscan Second Order, and to return it to its original Franciscan ideals of absolute poverty and austerity.”

She transferred to the Order of Poor Clares and immediately began to found new monasteries and to reform the order so that it would be more true to St. Francis and St. Clare. “During her lifetime 18 monasteries of her reform were founded. For the monasteries which followed her reform, she prescribed extreme poverty, going barefoot, and the observance of perpetual fasting and abstinence.” A number of miracles were attributed to her prayers during her lifetime, and after her death. In this age of countless people seeking nothing but pleasure and wealth, we need the spirit of St. Colette, the spirit of Jesus. Saint Colette of Corbie, pray for us.

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