Feast of St. Fedelis of Sigmaringen, OFM Cap., Martyr
April 24, 2010
Saint Joseph’s Church, New Paltz, N.Y.
Deacon Tom Cornell
Thank you, Father Bernard, for hosting our Pax Christi Peace Mass once again. It is more than fitting that we meet among sons of Saint Francis. It’s such a beautiful space, this church, so much color and light. I just had a flash-back to my time in prison, in 1968. It wasn’t very much, just six months – of sensual deprivation! It was gray, everything was gray, the walls were gray and the ceiling was gray and the floor was gray and the clothes were gray, and the food was gray! Oy veh! It is good to be here in this warm and beautiful place.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin friar. Saint Fidelis was martyred for defending the Catholic faith against Calvinists who denied the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. To most of Saint Felix’s 17th Century contemporaries the day when Catholics and Calvinists did not kill each other seemed unimaginable. We don’t kill each other any more, Catholics and Calvinists. Today we study Scripture together, we work and pray together; we pray that one day his Church will be as Jesus prayed the Father it would be, that all be one, one flock, one shepherd, Catholic, orthodox, evangelical and reformed.
To most of Saint Francis’ contemporaries, the day when Perugia and Assisi would never even think of attacking each other was unimaginable. But today the cities of Italy are interwoven in a fabric of mutual dependency; they do not attack each other. We older people remember war in Europe, when “the hand that held the dagger struck it into the back of its neighbor.” Italy will never attack France again because Italy and France and Germany, all the countries of Europe are interwoven in a fabric, a web of mutual dependency. How about the world? Can we extend a web of solidarity across the globe? We have to!
Is it foolish to imagine a world without war? No, I don’t think so. There’s an old saying that, “Wars will cease when men (and women) refuse to fight! It’s sounds good but it’s not true. Men (and women) will always be fooled, threatened, lied into their masters’ wars with manufactured fear and hatred. There will always be enough cannon fodder, sorry to say. War will cease when nations are so woven into a fabric of interdependency that war becomes impossible. But that fabric will not be woven without a tremendous sustained moral energy accelerating the progress of history. And that moral energy will only be generated by men and women who refuse to fight, who refuse to work in war industry or to give any sanction to war, men and women determined to say NO!, men and women ready to face the consequences and pay the price in the spirit of Saint Francis and of Jesus himself.
A generation ago, President John F. Kennedy told us that, for the first time in human history, it is possible to eliminate hunger and grinding poverty from the face of the earth. At the same time, he said, it is, for the first time, possible for mankind to commit suicide with the weapons we developed in World War II. Just a few days ago, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that with a fraction of the wealth we pour into weapons of mass destruction, we could eliminate world hunger. It’s our choice.
On August 6, 1945, “Everything changed,” said Albert Einstein, “everything but our way of thinking.” I remember that day. When the news came over the radio we threw a block party. I could almost cry to remember it. We rejoiced because we knew the war would be over very soon. We could not pause to think of the dead and dying Japanese. We had long since been taught to think of them as less than human, not like us. “They don’t value human life as we do,” we were told.
I can not help but think of Saints Francis and Anthony and Fidelis today in this place. It’s easy to white-wash popular saints. I love the statue of Saint Anthony with the Christ child and the lily; I love to see it in people’s homes. But that statue doesn’t give the whole picture, not at all. Saint Anthony didn’t go around holding the Baby Jesus in his arms all the time, and a flowering lily. Saint Anthony could inveigh with power and righteous wrath against the money-lenders of his day who despoiled the poor. Even as a young man, he hollered and screamed and made such a racket that, for the first time, a Council of the Church condemned usury.
Where are the young today? I see lots of white hair and bald heads. Maybe we’ve become too accustomed to Grandmother’s religion in our churches. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against grandmothers, quite the contrary. I’m married to one! And I loved my own grandma and I miss her. And she died in 1942! I still have the prayer book she brought with her from Italy over a hundred years ago. But what the young need now isn’t grandma’s religion. What the young need and crave is struggle, battle, for something bigger than themselves. We, members of the oldest, the largest, the most widely dispersed organization in the world, the Catholic Church, the “sacrament of the unity of the human race,” have all we need right at hand. We can bring about that change in thinking that Einstein called for to catch up with the reality of a changed world. We have a body of social teaching on justice and peace based on the Scriptures, unmatched, and we have the sacraments, we have our saints as models, including the uncanonized ones like Dorothy Day. The young need to know that each one has a part to play in building peace and justice for a fractured and bleeding world. They are called to arms, the army that sheds no blood, to the army of Jesus Christ, the army that binds up the wounds. This is a faith to die for! To live for. The young dream dreams and it is good that they do, for without a vision, the people will surely perish.
Saints Francis and Fidelis were peacemakers. Saint Fidelis practiced the works of mercy to an heroic degree, comforting the afflicted, widows and orphans and prisoners and the sick during a plague at the risk of his own life. And he did in fact offer his life to tell the truth in defense of the Catholic faith, to instruct the ignorant! The works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, are the exact opposite of the works of war and they are, as Mahatma Gandhi taught, the obverse side of the coin of nonviolence. Come, take your part!
On Sunday, May 2nd, you are invited to join a rally at United Nations Plaza, from 4 to 6 p.m. The purpose of the rally is to call upon our government to pledge itself to a series of unilateral initiatives toward complete nuclear disarmament. It’s what our bishops and the Holy Father have called for. The peace tradition of the sons and daughters of Saint Francis is now the standard for the whole Catholic Church, at long last.
Thank you. Peace be with you!