The Redwoods of these north coast mountains of California have awed many for generations with their stature, beauty and strength. Yet if you have lived or walked amidst these fragrant giants you have hopefully realized that they are but the largest members of a much fuller community. One of the most beautiful members of this verdant environment is the Redwood Orchid. Small, often hidden by the larger, more well known companions, it can be found in hidden glades in the moist Spring time bringing a violet beauty under the emerald canopy overhead. The little Redwood Orchid is a humble yet excellent introduction to the lesson from the Scriptures in our Mass readings today. It is also an appropriate introduction to a hidden, simple saint who’s life was a profound lesson of the call of our Risen Lord.
May 17th is the Feast day of St. Paschal Baylon (1540-1592). This simple Franciscan lay brother never advanced further than being the porter at his Loreto monastery. Born to a poor Spanish family he was a shepherd without formal education. Yet he taught himself to read and write with the special purpose of being able to pray the Little Office of Our Lady. Paschal Baylon was appointed the Patron Saint of Eucharistic Congresses and Associations by Pope Leo XIII. If remembered, he is often thought of for his deep devotion and love for Christ expressed in the Blessed Sacrament. His deep longing and prayer for this communion with Christ was a part of his life even as a young shepherd. It grew to become a life of fervent prayer with our Eucharistic Lord. But St. Paschal’s life was far more than a life of prayer. He lived a life of faithful service, especially for the poor and needy. He, although uneducated by worldly standards, also came to be known for his courageous and boldly gentle defense of his faith in the face of real persecution. This balance of loving devotion and service, for the love of God, is the heart of the message we see in our readings.
Chosen to Love: “God is Love.” Our Epistle today shares these three most powerful Words of Scripture. Often quoted, less often lived, the depth of meaning starts to dawn as we accept the context…”and God sent His Son to pay for our sins”. Knowing our condition, yet seeing the worth of the soul God had created the Father calls us to His Son.
People, of all nations, as Peter affirmed in our first reading, are chosen, are called to Love, to God. It is into the infinite embrace of the Crucified Savior we start to grow in the freedom of being..chosen…the freedom of being chosen by and to… Love. Paschal Baylon realized he was called, that he was chosen, out of his sin and this world..to the Loving Presence found in the Body and Blood of Christ. Paschal also realized this call was for all humanity and lead to his life living the Commandment.
Commanded to Love: Often when we think of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament we think of it as a distinct practice of piety. We may relegate it to a contemplative effort best suited to religious or those who…like to pray. Sometimes those who practice Eucharistic devotion may be tempted to see this as a hallmark of their love for God. Sadly, it may lead to a condition of being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. St. Paschal, who spent hours in rapt prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, would fervently disagree. It was but the furnace from which he carried forth the fire of God’s love for the poor, his brothers or even those who opposed his faith. This love for God of which Christ commands us this day, and always, is but a summation and source of the love we are to abide in and share with each other. The command of God’s holy, fearless love fulfills all the lesser commandments or issues with which we may become distracted. St. Paschal lived out his love for the Eucharist Christ in his service and love of others. This included his fellow Franciscans, the poor and needy as well as those perhaps his enemies. Once, in holy obedience, he ventured on a trip into a part of France that was, at the time under strong anti-Catholic control. Hugeonots, opposed to the Church more than once confronted Paschal on his journey with assaults and threats. Confronted by a learned Protestant scholar he was challenged about belief in the Blessed Sacrament. The learned scholar was confounded and silenced when this simple monk defended and explained this Biblical truth with a bold yet gentle courage. Paschal did not compromise his convictions or his love for those who did not agree with him. He simply sought to live as His Risen Lord had called him to do.
Abiding in Love: With St. Paschal, our Blessed Mother, St. Peter and all the saints we are chosen to abide..to LIVE in this love that is….Christ. As we live, listening to the voice of Christ in the Scriptures we hear His mercy, guidance, correction and peace. As we learn to hear God’s voice in each other, our family and the poor or wounded we hear His call to.. love. As we receive His Sacred Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist we are fed.. with Christ.. with Love. As we come to pray before His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament we discover, with St, Paschal the quiet peace, joy and strength abiding in His Presence. (We are chosen to be filled with His joy and the joy of the Lord is our strength).
St. Pascal Baylon died at the age of 52. Numerous accounts describe the moment of his death as the bells were being rung for the Consecration during the High Mass in his monastery. This little orchid of the saints calls to us today to abide and live in the Love that is Christ.