Summary: In the midst of the Reformation, God weaves a tapestry of faith in the lives of weak human beings.
Thursday of the 2nd Week in Advent 2017
When external situations are the bleakest, God acts to fulfill His promises to His people–first in the history of the Jews, and now in the age of the Church. The second and third parts of Isaiah were probably written by his followers long after his original ministry, in a time when the first prophecies of Isaiah were being fulfilled. But they were, as all times are, a period of difficulty for the faithful. Israel was oppressed, and felt, we see here, like a mere “worm.” But God promised them, who lived in something close to a desert, pools and springs of water. And God fulfilled that promise by giving us who believe, who are baptized, springs of water, of faith, of love, flowing from our hearts. This will be true as long as we are open to having the heart of Christ.
St. Paul taught that it is in our weakness that the power of Christ reaches perfection. We are all weak and imperfect, prone to do exactly the wrong things for what we think are the right reasons. I believe that this human arrogance, this pride, was behind the original rebellion in the garden of Eden. And I believe it was human arrogance that gave us a Pope Alexander Borgia, all the other corrupt clergy of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and also gave us Martin Luther and John Calvin and the other revolutionaries and politicians who acted to rip apart the Catholic Church.
One of the ways that God shows forth His power in our weakness is His habit of writing straight with crooked lines. Let me just trace a few events that were contemporary with Alexander Borgia and Martin Luther, and they show what I mean. This is the commemoration of the great saint and doctor of the Church, John of the Cross. I have been following his spiritual ancestry.
Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, had eight children by various mistresses and consorts. His eldest son, Pedro, was hereditary duke of Gandia in the Spanish kingdom of Valencia. He died and his brother, Juan, became duke. Juan was murdered in Rome just five years into Rodrigo’s papacy. The likely killer was his younger brother, the hothead Cesar Borgia.
Juan’s widow, Maria Enriquez, was left with a son and a daughter. Eventually both she and her daughter became Franciscans. This pious pair of women began the work of reparation for the sins of the Borgias. In the year 1510, just three years after Luther’s ordination, one of the Borgia offspring was born and named Francis. His life was somewhat dissolute during his education years, but at a royal funeral he heard a sermon by Blessed John of Avila, was struck by the Holy Spirit and vowed to become a more perfect Christian. He soon became himself duke of Gandia, and in his zeal he invited the new order of Jesuits to his duchy to found a university, where he took a theology degree. In time he renounced his title and took vows as Jesuit, ultimately becoming superior of the order.
Now, in the meantime, Teresa of Avila had grown up and joined the Carmelite order in 1535. She was a mystic, and had visions and revelations which, because of her delicate conscience, led to some dissonance in her personality. In this situation, she took counsel from the wise Francis Borgia, and discerned her vocation to reform the Carmelite order and found a stricter branch of the order. Her various books continue to inspire those of us who aspire to grasping more fully the life Christ wants for us, and especially to accept the role of suffering in our education.
John of the Cross, in 1567, was troubled by the laxness he saw in the Carmelite order he had joined, but before jumping to the Carthusians, “he made the acquaintance of St. Teresa, who had come to Medina to found a convent of nuns, and who persuaded him to remain in the Carmelite Order and to assist her in the establishment of a monastery of friars carrying out the primitive rule. He accompanied her to Valladolid in order to gain practical experience of the manner of life led by the reformed nuns. A small house having been offered, St. John resolved to try at once the new form of life, although St. Teresa did not think anyone, however great his spirituality, could bear the discomforts of that hovel. He was joined by two companions, an ex-prior and a lay brother, with whom he inaugurated the reform among friars.” John, of course, left us some wonderful books, including the Spiritual Canticle and The Dark Night of the Soul.
I see stories like this being the work of a master tapestry artist, weaving lives together of weak humans whose only commonality is that they pray to God that His will be done.