Traveling is always a great way to learn things. Of course, the food, wine, sights, and friendly people are not to be forgotten, but traveling provides opportunities to learn about history, various cultures, architecture, artwork, and (especially for someone like me) there is always the discovery of a new saint. My most recent trip to Italy did not disappoint in in any of those ways. Celebrating All Saints Day this month continued the emphasis on the vastness of the communion of saints, those canonized and those who will never be recognized publicly, but are remembered by those who knew them. The feast day was also a reminder that not only have there been many ‘varieties’ of the sanctified, but that we, too, can grow in holiness in ways expected and unexpected. I say expected because we should all desire, if not expect, to become saints insofar as we all have the capability and potential; we all have that call. I say unexpected because the Lord will do it in His way, offering graces and opportunities to accept those graces, as only He in His wisdom can do. Either way, it means we need to actively seek to grow in holiness and to actively work at it. God gives the seeds, but we have to plough the field.
The saint who I met on the occasion of my recent travels is Sant’Oronzo, or Saint Orontius if you prefer. He is the patron saint of Lecce, Italy, a bishop and martyr of the 1st century AD. According to the legend, Oranzo was born in Rudiae (ancient name of Lecce)* in 22 AD and was converted to Christianity by a disciple of St. Paul, Titius Justus, who was shipwrecked off the coast while on his way to deliver a copy of the letter of St. Paul to the Romans. At his baptism, Justus changed the saint’s name to Oronzo and he began a ministry of evangelization, but because of his preaching he was beaten and denounced by the pagans in the area. He eventually made his way to Corinth where he was ordained as first bishop of Lecce by St Paul. Returning to Lecce, Oronzo once again began intensive evangelization, resulting in exile, but undaunted, he continued to preach and evangelize in the coastal towns to which he had escaped. Finally, in 68 AD he and one of his disciples were arrested, tried for high treason, and beheaded. Interestingly, it was not until a long time after his death that Oronzo became the patron of Lecce; the first patron was actually St. Irene, but in 1656, the people of Lecce believed their prayers to Oronzo saved them from the plague and as a result they elevated him to patron of the city. Unfortunately, we know little about the ‘demoted’ (but no less a saint) patron, Irene, except that she was martyred in the third century.
In my reflection upon Saints Oronzo and Irene, I realized that while the details of their lives are now relegated to legend, they did spread the faith during their lifetime, and they continue to be impactful upon those who have remained devoted to their memory. In truth, the details are irrelevant, but what is important is that they brought the faith to many and offered hope to those who were searching simply by giving their lives completely to Jesus. Therefore, just as I am certain that the last thing on their minds was a lasting legacy, we do not have to concern ourselves with that either. Rather, our work will speak for itself through the lives of those we touch. Truly, we,too, have the ability to have an impact which is no less than that of the canonized saints. It takes dedication and love, cultivated through our prayer. We have to work with the seeds of grace the Lord plants within us; God provides the seeds, but we have to plough the field. However, the more we seek, the more grace we receive, and subsequently our love for God will grow and we will become empowered for the work. The ploughing becomes easier because of Him for whom we labor.
A final thought: throughout our trip I noticed that visibly prominent churches were the center of just about every town and city, but sadly, many of them had become museums, relics, things of the past. This serves as a reminder that our churches should be more than inanimate buildings and landmarks for geographical purposes, but rather, they should be living landmarks filled with faith-filled members assisting other pilgrims on the path to Heaven. The buildings are where the Church assembles and worships, which is indeed essential because that is what makes the church alive: the church alive is the people, empowered by grace, who spread the Good News through word and deed, kindness, generosity, mercy and love. If we participate, not only does the Church stay alive, but it thrives as we grow in holiness both individually and collectively.** Yes, we must be the ones to plough the field, but when the Father provides the seeds, we must also trust that Jesus waters them. In short, we serve and glorify God when we work towards becoming the holy ones He intends us to be, but we do not do it alone or by our own power. Rather, we contribute to building up the Kingdom through the love of Christ made manifest within us. That, brothers and sisters, is holiness.
May we cooperate with the seeds of grace which God plants within us! May we have the fortitude to stay the course as we work to grow in holiness! May we look to the example of the canonized Saints as well as the ‘hidden’ holy ones whom we have experienced! And may our faith be enlivened, our hearts be ignited, and our actions be emboldened through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ our Lord! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Lecce is located in far south Puglia, in what some refer to as the heel of the boot shape of Italy.
More on Sant’Oranzo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orontius_of_Lecce
A link to a small bit of information about St. Irene: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irene_of_Lecce
** This includes praying for vocations or considering a vocation to the priesthood, too. We need priests to offer the sacraments and to minister in our churches!
Finally: Throughout the body of this entry I chose to use ‘plough,’ the old English version of the word 'plow.' ~ It is very biblical to consider ploughing (or plowing, if you prefer) because it is an act ripe with symbolism. There are many references in the Old Testament. The one that leapt to mind first is when Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha as he plowed his fields. (1Kings 19:19-21) Elisha stopped plowing, then slaughtered the cows and burned the plow, a symbol that he was offering himself to service of the Lord and that he would plow in a new field, or rather, in a new way. In the gospels, Jesus strongly indicated that we should put our hand to the plow and not look back; that is, we must trust that He will give us what we need, but that we need to put in the work once He gives the gifts. (Luke 9:62)
1. My photo, countryside near Randazzo, Sicily. This is on the north side of Mt. Etna.
2. Icon, St. Paul the Apostle by Fr. William Hart McNichols. There are few paintings of Sant'Oronzo. Like all those who lived so long ago, what they looked like is anyone's guess. But since St. Paul factored in Oronzo's story, it seemed fitting to use this icon. You can find this icon at fineartamerica.com/featured/st-paul-the-apostle-196-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. Painting, Enclosed Field with Ploughman by Vincent van Gogh (1889).
4. My photo, a closed church in Lecce, Puglia, Italy.
5. My photo, the view from Ravello, a town on the Amalfi coast in Campania, Italy.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
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