Tuesday, August 11, 2015

St. Equitius and The Church Militant

     The Catholic Church is like a spiritual treasure-house with many different rooms.  We have at our disposal whole storerooms, as it were, of sacred music, or art, or inspired Christian doctrine.  One of the more expansive rooms contains legions of Saints.  As I've ventured into that room more and more often over the last few years, I have found that while a relatively few Saints, such as St. Clare (whose feast is today) are well known (although not as familiar to Catholics as they once were), there are countless obscure Saints who have wonderful stories to tell.  
     One such little-known Saint, St. Equitius, has his feast day today as well. Here is his biographical entry on  Catholic Online:

Abbot and founder, never ordained, mentioned by Pope St. Gregory the Great. A native of  Abruzzi, Italy, he founded a monastery at Terni after converting and living as a hermit. When complaints were made concerning Equitius' standing, he was protected by the pope, who started an investigation by sending a priest named Julian to Equitius. The pope then sent word that he had had a vision concerning him. Equitius founded a number of monasteries in Valeria, an area near Rome. 

     I see the story of St. Equitius as something like a tableau of how the Catholic Church works in the world.  We have the individual believer, Equitius, who through his "reputation for sanctity" draws more people out of the world and into the Church, and strengthens the faith of those who already believe.  Here we see the mission of all Christians to sanctify the world.  He is a layman, however, and some people are afraid that he is straying into territory rightly reserved for ordained clergy.  The Pope, who embodies the clergy's threefold mission of sanctifying, governing, and teaching investigates; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he gives his blessing to St. Equitius' holy work.
     This is a nice illustration, I think, of a couple simple but important ideas.  First, we are all called to sanctity and to mission.  At the same time, we all have different roles, and we need to respect the individual missions God has entrusted to each of us.  There is a lot of confusion in recent years about the importance of preserving, and observing, these important distinctions.  Sometimes the laity's call to holiness is misunderstood to mean that lay people should be moving into the sanctuary and acting more like priests, who are in turn expected to behave more like the laity.  

     But that's not how it's supposed to work. I find it helpful to think about it in light of the Church Militant: the bishops and priests are the officers, who train us lay people and lead us into battle; we are the common soldiers who apply our  "training" to the fight on the front lines, i.e., in the world.  If instead we try to knock our general off his horse and hop up in his place, we are really fighting for the enemy.  

     Saint Equitius understood that his mission was to sanctify the world, but he did not seek the authority or status of the priesthood.  The Pope, having satisfied himself that Equitius was respecting the teaching and authority of the Church, gave his blessing. That's a good lesson for all of us.

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