17th February. Monday, Week Six
The Seven Founders of the Servite Order.
The mendicant Servite Order was founded in 1233, by a group of cloth merchants who left behind their city (Florence), their families and professions to retire to Monte Senario for a life of poverty and penance.
1st Reading: James 1:1-11
(Testing can strengthen our faith. Whatever we ask in faith will be given to us)
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
Gospel: Mark 8:11-13
(Jesus refuses the Pharisees’ demand for a sign. He gets into the boat and goes to the other side.)
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
The kind of faith that saves
One of St Paul’s great slogans is: “The just person lives by faith”. Faith, indeed, is the centre of biblical religion, a central plank on the way to salvation. But St James presents a more rugged understanding of faith. It is a fidelity that is able to withstand severe hardship and testing; and also a platform on which positive works of charity must be built. In his classic phrase, James insists that faith without works is dead! Whereas they show considerable differences in emphasis, the positions of St. Paul and St. James are not incompatible, for both of them realise what a rugged path must be followed by a person of faith, in a largely unbelieving world.
We learn from today’s gospel that faith does not revolve around miracles. When jealous and suspicious people test Jesus and look for some heavenly sign, he sighs heavily about the weakness of their faith. When some people responded to Jesus with suspicion and envy, he left them and went off. Such dispositions do not keep Jesus in our midst; he remains only with people of faith, compassion and forgiveness.
The Servites were founded in 1233 AD, when (like Francis of Assisi a generation earlier) a group of merchants from Florence left their families and professions to retire outside the city on a nearby mountain for a life of poverty and penance. These are known as the Seven Holy Founders, all coming from Florentine patrician families. From the beginning, the Order was dedicated to Mary under her title of Mother of Sorrows. They lead a community life in the tradition of the mendicant orders (such as the Dominicans and Franciscans) and adopted Mary’s virtues of hospitality and compassion as the order’s hallmarks. The distinctive spirit of the order is the sanctification of its members by meditation on the Passion of Jesus and the Sorrows of Mary, and spreading this devotion to others. Some five centuries later a very similar spirit guided Paolo Danei (Saint Paul of the Cross) to found the Passionist order in northern Italy.