October 22, 2010

St. Peter of Alcántara

Today is the feast of St. Peter of Alcántara, a great reforming friar of the sixteenth century. In your 1962 Missale Romanum you will find his feast day on October 19. He seems to have gone out of the general Roman calendar at the time of the reform, but remains in proper Franciscan calendars. I presume that his feast day was moved to today--at least in the United States, I don't know about other places--because of the concurrence with the North American martyrs.

In the Office of Readings for today, we have some of a curious and challenging letter from Peter to St. Teresa of Avila. He warns the "Mother Prioress" about seeking advice on matters of the spiritual life and the evangelical counsels from those who have no competence in living them:

I was not a little surprised, Mother Prioress, that you submitted a matter of such importance to learned men who no competence in the matter. Now when there is a question about lawsuits or cases of conscience it will indeed be praiseworthy to get advice from lawyers and theologians and follow their opinion. But when there is a question about the life of perfection reason particularly suggests that those persons to be consulted who profess the life of perfection; that lawyers and theologians cannot have better advice or opinion on this matter, a study and scrutiny of their works shows very clearly.

We should note that this means that who are religious must accept and embrace the particular expertise and competence we are supposed to have. By our religious profession we have made our Christianity public, and are obligated to pursue holiness in a particular and public way. People who seek from us knowledge and counsel on their own prayer lives and interior struggles for holiness ought to be confident that we have something to offer. Of course this also goes, in similar senses, for priests and indeed anyone who has accepted public ministry in the Church and thereby made their baptism a public property. In this regard it is also important to always be continuing our own reading and reflection in the spiritual tradition. In my own time as a parish confessor, I would occasionally have a penitent whom I suspected of being advanced far beyond me in the spiritual life. To such persons I could only speak to with great tentativeness from things I've read in books.


ben in denver said...

St. Peter of Alcantara is one of my favorites. I have a statue of him in my home.

I was not aware that American Francisicans celebrate him today. In my home we remembered him on Tuesday.

I have been asking his intercession for my good friend's father Manuel, who has been sufferring in the ICU for six weeks now. If you wouldn't mind praying to St. Peter of Alcantara for Manuel today I would be grateful.

ben in denver

Brother Charles said...

Ben: I shall bring his peace and healing to the brothers' prayer today.

Anonymous said...

I love the way St. Teresa of Avila talks about him in her Life. His cause for canonization could have been made by Teresa alone!

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

If it helps, Br. Charles, let me share a personal story. I was recently struggling with an obedience issue. It seemed that Gog might be calling me to do something that would lead to my death. (Seriously, not overreacting here.) I did not want to do it but felt that I had to. Our parish priest was out of town for a month (ulp!), so I took my potential disobedience to confession with another confessor, and, lo, it turned out that the confessor had been ordained only 45 days earlier. I could feel his initial sense of panic, but then something beautiful happened. He oriented into all the issues perfectly. He understood that which he could not even have known. I think at that confession I finally understood the real nature of reconciliation because clearly the two of us were not alone in that room.