Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Feast of St. Gerard Majella

This is what I posted last year on this feast. Way before the Situation broke. Interesting.

A Redemptorist lay brother, St. Gerard is remembered for many qualities, including his holiness (well, yeah...we can take that for granted, I guess), his patient endurance of ill health, his gift of healing, and this:

At one point in his life, Gerard was subject to a rather shocking accusation: that he'd had an affair with a woman. this page says the accusation was that he was the father of a child, but nowhere else have I found that element of the story.

When the accusation was brought to him by none other than Redemptorist founder Alphonsus Liguori, Gerard decided to take the Redemptorist rule's command to accept the discipline of one's superior's in silence, without dispute literally, even in this circumstance, which was clearly not the intent of the Rule.

But he did, and was punished for his supposed indisgression for several months, even though everyone found it almost impossible to believe that he would have been capable of such a thing. After a time, the girl, very ill, confessed her lie, and Gerard was brought back into full community life.

This story reminds me of a Zen Koan. Yes, it really does. Here it is:

A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. "Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. "Is that so?" Hakuin said as he handed them the child.

Interesting, isn't it? Not so much for the similarities in the stories, but for the differences, which clearly point out the distinctions between Christian and Buddhist spiritual ideals.

The Buddhist ideals that are stressed here are self-detachment, and release from any desire, here the desire for "justice" and even truth. Hakuin certainly acts out of compassion in caring for the baby and protecting the mother's reputation, but that's not the real point. The point is that Hakuin understood that all of the concerns that swirled around the situation were really illusory and not deserving of attachment or concern.

Gerard, on the other hand, is intent on imitating Christ. We may wonder if he took things a bit far, and it may strike us that there's a bit of self-righteousness in his silence in front of St. Alphonsus, but beyond that, the ideals we can see lived out are patience under trial and faith that God's truth will win out in the end.

I have to confess, I find the Buddhist story more appealing. Don't know what that says about me, but there it is.

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