Feast Day: January 7th
“And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” [Genesis 1:28] … and many years later, though in much the same galaxy … Jesus, “lifting up his hands he blessed them” [Luke 24:50] and said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28:19-20]
The wonderful sight of many families and children at our Masses here (both on weekends and weekdays!) shows that some of you are very clearly multiplying, and discipling. Thank you, for fulfilling that part of God’s first command, and Jesus’ final one! But God also speaks of “subduing”, and Jesus calls His followers to “baptize” and “teach”, and I think these tasks are much more difficult than “multiplying” and “making disciples”. It’s one thing to home-grow disciples, but there “in the world”, it is a darker, murkier, crazier place, and people are doing their own thing and not really mindful of us, much less the Gospel we are called to preach to them.
Furthermore, there is a general feeling these days that it is not your or my place to impose our faith on someone else. Faith is a personal thing, not meant to be foisted on someone! So, how do we strike that right balance, not imposing but proposing (as St. Pope John Paul II would say)? How do we find the courage to proclaim properly the Gospel that is our source of joy (as Pope Francis so beautiful describes it in Evangelii Gaudium)? We need the example and intercession of St. Raymond of Peñafort!
I neglect many other facts of his life, to just say that this scholar and priest became a Dominican at the age of 47, after 2 decades teaching and writing canon law. He could have stayed in the solid and prosperous position he held at the university, but instead he becomes a friar of the Order of Preachers. In the middle of his life, he chose to double-down on the primary vocation we all have: become a saint, and produce other saints. How did he engage this daunting task?
For one, he helped found the order of Mercedarians, a group of friars who would turn themselves in as captives, to replace a Christian who had been captured by the Moors and were at risk of losing their faith. The group still exists, and still vows to “give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, should it be necessary, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith by new forms of captivity.”
Raymond also wrote a book to train priests to be good confessors (this was not just a list of sins and suggested penances; it tied in doctrine and Church practices, distinguishing for the good of priest and penitent such things as self-defense vs. violence done for vengeance or anger.) The book’s clarity and foundation in charity allowed generations of Christians to better know how to return, and stay, in God’s grace.
Raymond learned Hebrew and Arabic to preach the Gospel to Jews and Arabs, who formed the non-Christians of his own day. He established priories in non-Christian strongholds. He convinced King James of Aragon to have a respectful debate between a Moshe ben Nahman (a Jewish rabbi of Girona) and Paulus Christiani (a Jewish man of Montpellier, who had converted and became a Dominican), to speak clearly, and freely, about the identity of the Messiah.
Oh, and he floated on his own cloak back from the island of Majorca because King James had angrily forbade any ship to take him home after the good saint had challenged the royal-sinner to dismiss his concubine.
Teaching, preaching, challenging, debating, ransoming, pardoning, pacifying … all situations were places to preach the Gospel, and Raymond did not hesitate to do so.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has only baptized two (little) people. That’s barely addition, much less multiplication. Of course, currently, my assignment as Bishop Paprocki’s MC, and in the Diocesan offices does not offer many opportunities to directly create disciples, and it also offers surprisingly few opportunities to preach the Gospel to those who have not already heard it. But, this all means that I need to look more diligently, more creatively, more constantly, for ways to do just that, because God’s grace is there, and the call is there, and there are plenty of people who still need Jesus, myself most of all!