Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum. “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity” (Ps. 133). It has been said that the most compelling evidence that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the Church is that, after more than 2,000 years, we are still here. This is no small matter; a world fractured by conflict and war, and wounded by illness and famine, cries out for healing and joy. The Church gives witness to the heroism of those who embrace suffering in the spirit of charity, and direct our attention to the Kingdom of Heaven, where we find true happiness with God.
On Monday (February 17), the Church celebrates the Feast of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order. The Servites are a 13th-century mendicant (begging) order made up of wealthy men from Florence. Beginning on August 15, 1233 (the Feast of the Assumption), these men experienced a number of apparitions of the Blessed Mother, who encouraged within them a spirit of penance and self abnegation. The original members were from the merchant class who forsook the world for the “pearl of great price.” Some never married, others were widowed; all were devoted to Mary, and dedicated themselves to the honor of God.
The beautiful painting by Agostino Masucci (1728) illustrates various details of the founding of the Servites. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Our Lady instructs the Brothers to follow the Rule of St. Augustine, adopting a black habit that symbolizes their share in the Passion of Christ. Toiling in his vineyard and contemplating the “dolors” (sufferings) of his Mother, they are assured eternal reward (the palm branch in the hand of the cherub). The life of the fledgling order has a certain divine quality about it, with respect to both the afflictions it endured and the obstacles it faced. On the same day Our Lady first appeared to the Brothers, Philip Benizi was born; as a young man, he showed great hostility to the Servites, but was won over by their gentle kindness, and eventually joined the order. Moreover, there was within the Church tremendous resistance to the establishment of yet another mendicant order (there were already four). Only the death of a pope gave a reprieve to the Servites, who were finally approved in 1304. They continue to work for the sanctification of God’s people: holiness that only comes through conformity to the Cross of Jesus.
Speaking as one with a relatively low threshold for pain—and a corresponding level of patience—I stand in awe of those who demonstrate equanimity in the struggle for holiness. Let us find our consolation at the foot of the Cross and in the pierced heart of Our Lady.