Friday of Week 13 Per Annum

Genesis 23.1-4,19; 24.1-8,62-67; Ps 105; Matt 9.9-13

The last utterance of Sarah recorded in the Bible is her tight-lipped insistence that Abraham ‘Drive away that slave-girl and her son’ [Genesis 21.10]—that is, her maidservant Hagar and the child Ishmael who was Hagar’s son and Abraham’s. Sarah remains taciturn as Abraham saddled his ass to journey to a place where he will sacrifice their son Isaac [22.3]; and silent, too, when they return home, the sacrifice having been aborted. [22.19] The rabbis who comment on these verses make much of Sarah’s apparent aloofness, wonder aloud whether Sarah has died of a broken heart, died from the effect of griefs and grievances too deep to fathom and too heavy to bear.

But Sarah’s death propelled Abraham into action. He had to find a place to bury her. God had promised the land to Abraham [12.7] but, years later, and near to the end of Abraham’s own life, Abraham didn’t possess so much as a square foot of it. He paid the Hittite owners the ‘current commercial rate’ for some land [23.16] and with the title deeds of ‘Ephron’s field at Machpelah opposite Mamre, the field and the cave that was on it, and all the trees that were on it, the whole of its extent in every direction’ [23.17] in his hand, Abraham was no longer a ‘wandering Aramean’ [Deuteronomy 26.5] but a landowner, a home owner, a settler.

Next, Abraham needed to ensure a heritage, descendants to inherit the promises God had made to him. We get the story in a truncated version; it is worthwhile to sit and read the whole of Chapter 24. Like the purchase of land, the process is one of subtlety, negotiation—customs and procedures that seem odd to us but which are to this day commonplace in many parts of the world. It’s not the cinematic story of boy and girl falling in love; rather it is the joining of two families, in the midst of which a young man and a young woman recognise a vocation for each other.

Home and family are deep relationships in every culture, and equally crucial to those who don’t recognise the presence of God in their lives as to those who do. The deep veils by which we hide our secrets from each other are cast aside so that we can give ourselves to another. Relationships can become fraught, almost impossible to bear, but through human relationships the graceful presence of God hovering over us can be revealed as a tie that binds us deeply to the world and the people he has made and has called into life and relationship with him. The home he has promised us is finally neither a smallholding nor a spouse but connexion to all places and all people, and through them, connexion to the Maker and Redeemer and Sustainer himself.

St Maria Goretti

Genesis 22.1-9; Psalm 114; Matthew 9.1-8

She was born in 1890 to a farming family in Coronaldo. When she was 10 years old her father died and the family were forced to leave their farm. They moved to share a farm with another family, the Serenellis. Maria took over the housekeeping duties whilst other family members worked in the fields.

One afternoon Alessandro Serenelli, 20 years old, made sexual advances on Maria, then 11. When she refused him he stabbed her 14 times. Twenty-four hours later she died of her wounds, having expressed forgiveness for Alessandro and having stated that she wanted him to be in Paradise with her. (During Alessandro’s subsequent imprisonment he repented and upon his release he became a lay brother of the Capuchins. He died in 1970 at the age of 87.)

Maria was beatified in 1947 and canonised in 1950. She is the patron saint of rape victims.

St Anthony Mary Zaccaria

Genesis 21.5,8-20; Psalm 33; Matthew 8.28-34

Anthony was born in 1502 in Cremona to a noble family. His father died when he was 2 years old. He studied medicine at the University of Padua and then returned in 1520 to Cremona where he practiced medicine for three years until he decided to study for the priesthood and was sent to Bologna. In 1530 he followed Countess Ludovico Torelli to Milan. She had engaged him as her spiritual director, and, along with several others, they formed the Oratory of Divine Wisdom, with devotions based on the life and St Paul and an emphasis on love for the Eucharist and for the Passion of Jesus. They were joined by others, and preached missions in parishes and street corners, alongside work caring for the sick in hospitals. They rang the church bells every Friday afternoon at 3, in commemoration of the Passion of Christ. After receiving papal approbation for their work, they took the name of Barnabites, after
St Barnabas, the companion of St Paul.

Whilst on a mission to Guastalla in 1539 St Anthony contracted a fever and died. Along with the Barnabites, he had laid the foundation for two other religious institutes: the Angelic Sisters of St Paul, an uncloistered order for women; and a lay congregation for married people, the Laity of St Paul. After his death a number of miraculous cures were attributed to his intercession, and 27 years after his death his body was found to be incorrupt. His mortal remains are enshrined in the Church of St Barnabas in Milan; he was canonised in 1897.

St Elizabeth of Portugal

Genesis 19.15-29; Psalm 25; Matthew 8.23-27

Born in 1271 into the Royal House of Aragon, Elizabeth was the daughter of King Peter III and sister of three kings: Alfonso II and James II of Aragon and Frederick III of Sicily. She was also the great niece of St Elizabeth of Hungary, for whom she was named. She was educated piously; as a child she said the Daily Office and submitted herself to fasting and other penances. A marriage to King Denis of Portugal was arranged when she was 10; they were married some seven years later. He reputedly abused her and committed adultery against her, but her prayer and patience were said to have brought about his repentance. He died, leaving her a widow, in 1325. She retired to a monastery of the Poor Clares at Coimbra (which she had earlier played a part in founding) and joined the Third Order of St Francis, dedicating the remainder of her life to the care of the sick and to living in obscurity. Accustomed to riding out in battlefields to settle disputes between kingdoms, on a peacekeeping mission on 4th July 1336 she died, probably as a result of her age and the oppressive summer heat. She was beatified in 1516 and canonised in 1626.

St Thomas the Apostle

Ephesians 2.19-22; Psalm 116; John 20.24-29

Thomas is listed as one of Jesus’ twelve disciples in all four Gospels, but only in John’s Gospel does he have a speaking role. First, when Jesus is preparing to go to Bethany where his friend Lazarus has died, the disciples discourage Jesus from walking into danger but Thomas says to them ‘Let us go, too, and die with him.’ [John 11.16] Then, during Jesus’ long exhortation to his disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus remarks that they ‘know the way to the place where I am going’ and Thomas, perhaps in visible exasperation, retorts ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ [14.4-5] Finally, at the risen Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples on Easter Sunday evening, St John records that Thomas was absent. Told of the resurrection he re-joined ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my … hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ [20.24-29]

His scepticism occasioned Jesus’ greatest beatitude, one which has given heart to Christians across two millennia: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ [20.29] Tradition holds that Thomas brought the Gospel to India, where he was martyred with a spear.