Abbot Mark's Homily for the Solemnity of Saint Anselm of Canterbury
This is the homily given by Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B. on April 21, 2018 for the Solemnity of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, patron of our Abbey and College.
“I prayed and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me…I deemed riches nothingin comparison with wisdom.”
How many ways, and in how many stories is it conveyed to us in the Old Testament that wisdom comes from God, and in seeking wisdom we find God. In the New Testament as well, Saint Paul in just a few words tells us that we find wisdom by allowing Christ to abide in us. Paul writes to the Christians of Ephesus: “I kneel before the Father…that he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His spirit…that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”
Our Church continually exhorts us to seek out wisdom, to guide all our decisions, wisdom that helps us persevere when things go poorly, wisdom that assists us in choosing the right path when difficult choices lie in front of us, wisdom that allows us to see below the surface of things, and gain insight both into the true meaning of our relationships with one another, and the ultimate significance of the tasks we undertake in life.
The Church in all that she says and does, points out clearly where we must go to find understanding. For our faith asserts that it is in Christ, and only in Christ that perfect knowledge resides. Christ is wisdom. Approach Him, and place yourself under wisdom’s care, says the faith. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Saint Anselm, whose feast we celebrate and whose love of the pursuit of understanding was obvious to all who knew him, never made the claim to others that he possessed wisdom. Rather he accused himself of much folly. He once wrote the following words in the form of a prayer to his patron Saint Benedict: “Father, I beg you not to be scandalized by my so many faults…I have vowed to live according to your Rule, however carnal a monk…it would take too long to speak of gluttony, sloth, inconstancy, impatience, vainglory, detraction, disobedience and all the other sins my wretched soul commits. How dare I call myself a soldier of Christ and a disciple of Saint Benedict…how have I the effrontery to let people see me with the tonsure and the habit of profession, when I do not live the life…I profess myself a soldier, scholar, monk…my life argues that I am a liar.”
At one’s first reading of these words it might be concluded that they come from the lips of a great sinner, but upon reflection we realize they can only come from a very wise, and good man who knows himself, and his failings, and knows as well the infinite goodness of his Creator. The insight and remorse Anselm so eloquently conveys can only emanate from a life lived in the presence of wisdom….Christ Himself.
Recently I read an article in our student newspaper, the Crier, about the rising incidence of violent crime. The article told the horrific story of a young girl, 10 year old Marissa, who after years of unspeakable treatment succumbed to death from physical and mental abuse at the hands of her own mother and step-father. My mind has returned to poor Marissa several times since reading that article, and I have thought as well, how those of us who have been given so much for which to be grateful, must every day strive with uncommon effort to move closer and closer to wisdom, in order that we might be purified of all sin, and thus be better able to pray as we should, for our needs and those of so many fellow travelers who live in desperation, and need our prayers to carry on.
Today’s gospel tells us in Jesus’ own words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…rain fell…floods came…winds blew…but (the house) did not collapse.”
When the storm arrives will we rest secure with wisdom as our safe harbor? To the extent we allow Christ to live in us, to that extent will our prayer be sincere, and able to assist us and assist our neighbor in times of greatest need. But to the extent that we prefer our own choices to those pointed out by wisdom, by Christ, to that extent will we simply be crying out, “Lord, Lord”, and our urgent prayers will be of no benefit to ourselves, nor will we even know how to pray for our neighbor, for our prayers will originate in a selfish heart unfamiliar with Christ…Christ, still awaiting an invitation to enter fully into our lives.
Saint Anselm, intercede and pray for us poor pilgrims that we might undertake the difficult yet all-rewarding work of judging our every thought and action by the light of true wisdom, Christ, who loves us and desires that we taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Dear Anselm may we become more and more pure, that our prayer might, in turn, become ever more effective, that we, and all those who desperately need our prayers, may one day join you and all the saints in heaven. Lord send forth your wisdom to renew us, and to renew the face of the earth.