The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5:15-17)
Charity alone is his changeless and eternal rest, his eternal and changeless tranquillity, his eternal and changeless Sabbath [. . .] For his charity is his very will and also his very goodness, and all this is nothing but his being. (St Aelred of Rievaulx, Speculum Caritatis I,19)
It is hard to fathom the enormity of accusing the Eternal Son of breaking the Sabbath. He IS the Sabbath. In Him the Father rests with infinite contentment, and together they breath that eternal sigh of love fulfilled that is the Holy Spirit. All of creation is ordered to entry into that seventh day of the Divine Life. The Son longs to give us a share of His eternal rest, but we have turned against that rest, through our sins we have banished ourselves to a world of toil and trouble. And so He is still at work He comes into the world to create us all over again, to liberate us from the task-masters of Egypt, and bring us into the promised land of the true and eternal Sabbath.
The healing of the cripple in John 5 is a sign of this new creation that God has already begun to make. And for this they accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath! But isn’t the accusation that the Pharisees make one that we make as well? I was thinking of this other day when I was complaining in my heart about some minor bureaucratic frustration; wasn’t I in fact telling Our Lord, ‘stop breaking my Sabbath’? He is at work in our lives; everything that His providence ordains for us is meant to help to create us anew, to destroy the old man and his works and bring the new man to life, so that we may enter ever more into that eternal rest which is the very life of the Triune God.
Gloriosus apparuisti inter principes Austriae, sancte Leopolde, ideo diadema suscepisti de manu Domini; ora pro nobis ad Deum qui te elegit. (Magnificat Antiphon for the Feast of Saint Leopold)
Earlier this month the Austrian Bishop’s Conference met here in Heiligenkreuz. By some chance the first day of the Conference coincided with the Feast of Saint Leopold, the great Margrave of Austria and founder of Stift Heiligenkreuz (November 15th). These are, shall we say, challenging times for the Church of Austria, and one could not but be struck by the contrast between our times and those of Saint Leopold. But perhaps there is more illusion than reality in the contrast.
Certainly the impression that one gets from the liturgical texts etc. for Saint Leopold is of a kind of golden age in which everything went right for the Holy Prince. The antiphon for the Dixit Dominus at vespers goes, “Dominus confregit in die belli inimicos Leopoldi”! But this impression must be largely mistaken. Man is fallen from Paradise so it is natural to look back to a pre-lapsarian age, but one is inclined not to look back far enough and to project pre-lapsarian perfection on very lapsarian times. Saint Leopold’s greatest contemporary, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, thought that his own times were the worst times in the history of the world. To us they only seem great because the people we remember from them are the great exceptions: SS. Bernard, Leopold etc. The extreme example of this is of course the time of Our Lord, the fullness of time, but the generation which our Lord Himself says will be condemned on the Day of Judgment by Sodom and Gomorrah.
The opposite error is equally natural: to look forward to a coming generation which will set everything right. This is all very well if one looks forward to the Second Coming, but I’m afraid even Catholics have the tendency not to look forward far enough. How many times have we heard so-called “conservatives” say that soon the present unfortunate generation of “liberals” will die off and their places be taken by the rising generation of “traditionalist” churchmen who will reverse the excesses of the past decades? But every generation of churchmen is full of heresy, pride, cowardice, envy, and folly; all we can hope for is a occasional saint to keep our hopes up till the eschatological solution to all problems.