Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Sexagesima Sunday—27 February A.D. 2011

St. Gabriel Adolorata—Patron of Handgunners

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity.”{1}

   Every year when we read this Epistle, I am impressed with the idea that we are reading “Saint Paul's Adventure Story.”  “In labours … prisons … in stripes above measure, in deaths often ... beaten with rods … stoned ... shipwreck, a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea.... waters … robbers ..  in the city ... in the wilderness … in the sea.… In labour and painfulness, in watchings, in hunger and thirst … fastings ... cold and nakedness.... my daily concern for all the churches.... At Damascus, the governor of the nation under Aretas the king, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to apprehend me.  And through a window in the wall, was I let down in a basket, and so escaped his hands.

   If anyone were to make a movie about Saint Paul's life, it seems that Indiana Jones would have to play Paul.  “Harrison Ford, the Apostle from Tarsus”!

   When people talk about religious vocations, they often distinguish “the active life” from “the contemplative life.”  By “active” they mean a vocation that is active in the world, like the parish priest, the teaching sister, or the hospital brother or nun.  The “contemplative” is thought to be someone who does little else but engage in prayer.  The distinction is entirely too sharp, for there is no “active” vocation without a substantial amount of prayer—and there is no “contemplative” vocation without a measure of activity.

   Perhaps the most “contemplative” order in the Catholic Church is the Carthusians.  The Carthusian monk spends most of his time in his cell.  If he is a priest he says his Mass there, and a laybrother brings him his meals to eat there—but even he goes to the monastic church three times a day to participate in the public offering of Matins-Lauds, Mass, and Vespers.{2}  Even when privately recited in his cell, all of the hours of the Divine Office are part of the Church's public worship.  His cell will have a small workshop where he may engage in some sort of manual craft necessary to the monastery.  He may spend some of his time writing for publication.  His cell will open on a small private garden where he may cultivate flowers and grow vegetables that will supplement the monastery food supply.  There is always wood to be chopped.  And someone has to make that green liquor, which gives its name to the color chartreuse.  On Sundays there is a communal meal in the refectory, and on Mondays there is a long hike—perhaps four hours long—for exercise and to allow the monks to know one another in conversation.  Men and women (there are Carthusian nuns as well as monks) are beings of body and soul, so even in the most contemplative life there is need for a certain amount of activity.

   Saint Paul exemplifies this union of contemplation and activity in an extremely high degree.  Not only did we read about his “adventure story” today, but we also read of his high degree of contemplative union with God:  “caught up to the third heaven....  caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, such as are not granted to man to utter.”{3}  Very few contemplative monks or nuns report such dynamic contact with God! 

   Yet for all his closeness to God, Paul is humble:  “I will glory nothing, but in my infirmities..... for [God's] power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.”{4}

   And there we see the source of Paul's missionary zeal and energy:  “in infirmities … reproaches ... necessities ... persecutions ... distresses … [if they are] for Christ.... then am I powerful.”  If they are for Christ!

Today, February 27th, if today were not Sunday, we would be celebrating the feast of a young Passionist seminarian, Gabriel Possenti, or as he was known in religion, Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.  Gabriel died, before being ordained priest, of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four.  Even in those few years he became well known for his contemplative prayer life and his devotion to the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin.  But there was an active side to Gabriel as well—he was very good with a pistol.

   In 1860 the riffraff army under the Freemason Giuseppe Garibaldi invaded the Papal States and defeated the army of Pope Pius IX.  A group of soldiers entered Isola del Gran Sasso, where Gabriel was studying for the priesthood.  As they looted the town, the noise they made alerted Gabriel to their presence.  He heard the screams of a young girl, who was trying to fend off a group of soldiers.  Sneaking up on them, he was able to snatch guns from the holsters of two men—9 mm. revolvers, it is believed—at which point he commanded them to let the woman go.  The chief among them stood up and just laughed ath the young man in the cassock, until Gabriel leveled the revolvers and commanded again.  There was still no reaction, but as a lizard scurried across the scene, Gabriel blew it away with the gun in his left hand, without ever taking his eyes off the soldier.  The cowardly riffraff were quick to leave, and the young girl returned home unharmed.{5}  Again, we see activity fueled by contemplation;  bravery nourished by zeal for God's moral law.

   Now, if I may come back to Saint Paul for just a minute or two more.  Paul would not have been with Jesus when he spoke the parable we heard in this morning's Gospel.6  Nonetheless, since it is from Saint Like's Gospel, we can presume that he heard it from Luke, as the two traveled together extensively.  The parable speaks of seeds falling on various kinds of ground, sprouting or not, withering or growing, accordingly.  The seeds, we are told, is the word of God, and the places they fell represent those who do or don't hear the word of God, and how those who do hear it react to it.  As a parable it is very attractive, but it still has the limitations of a parable.  Reading the “adventures of Saint Paul” adds an additional dimension to the parable.

   The seeds in the parable are inanimate.  They fall where they may, and have no control over where they fall.  They might be moved by the wind, or perhaps by an animal or insect—but they have no control.  People are different.  Saint Paul was originally an agent of the Temple;  a persecutor of Christians—but he allowed God to change him.  With the grace of God, men and women can do what the seeds cannot do—so to speak, they can alter their locations in God's field.  And, perhaps more to the point, by being like Saint Paul, they can work together with God to move other people to alter their locations in God's field.  Paul's adventure story was not some purposeless pastime, as others climb dangerous mountains, or dive out of airplanes, or go white water canoeing—his adventure was a partnership with God to move people into a closer relationship with Him.

   Each one of us in this church has a story.  When life is done, each will be unique.  Some will more adventurous;  some more sedate.  Some may actually go out and preach the Gospel as Paul did in the synagogues  and other places around the Mediterranean.  Others may be confined to teaching the Gospel to their children or to a Sunday school class.  Still others may do no more than learn the Gospels for themselves.  But each one of these stories represents a partnership with God.

   Now is the time to begin that partnership if you have not already done so.  Lent is nearly upon us, and it represents an ideal time to “sign on” as His partner.  Like Saint Paul, you will find that your difficulties will be fully supported by His grace.  “Infirmities … reproaches ... necessities ... persecutions ... distresses … [if they are] for Christ.... then [you will be] powerful.”  If they are for Christ!

   As God spoke to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity.” 


4  2 Corinthians xii: 6-10

5  Cf. Butler's Lives of the Saints, February 27.  Also see





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