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St Peter Damian
Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven in 1072)
I find your victory in the Northeast Crossword Puzzle Tournament disturbing. If you have gotten so good at doing crosswords, it means that you have taken a lot of time to practice. And I can just imagine when – right when you sit down to dive into an especially hairy problem set or scrawl out an outline for a term paper. We are all tempted to prefer our little hobbies to our duties; duties are not always fun, and hobbies are (that’s why they’re hobbies). But think for a moment about the consequences of giving into that temptation. I am sure you remember what we spoke about a couple of years ago regarding God’s plan for your life. He created you for something, to play a role in the history of salvation that only you can play. And the salvation of souls (yours among them) is depending on your courageous fulfillment of that mission, which unfolds itself little by little as you strive to discover and fulfill God’s will on a daily basis. And while you are at college, an important part of God’s will happens to the normal responsibilities of a Catholic college student: doing your best in classes, taking time to develop a prayer life, learning more about your faith, being an active member of the college community, etc. If you let little, innocent fetishes (like crossword puzzling) eclipse these primary duties, you are deviating from God’s will, which is a sure way not to fulfill the mission he created you for. Today’s saint understood this principle especially well.
Peter Damian lost his parents at a very young age, and one of his older brothers brought him up, treating him more like a slave than a brother (this all happened in Ravenna, on the east coast of Italy). When he was a teenager, another brother had pity on him (his main job at the time was tending the pigs) and offered to pay for his education. So the future saint began a brilliant academic career, quickly becoming a prodigious professor of classical learning. At the same time, he was being drawn towards a more ascetic life. After meeting two Camaldolese monks, he resolved to join them in their monastery, and thus began his life as a religious.
In the mountainous hermitage, he devoted himself to prayer, sacrifice, and study, becoming as versed in Sacred Scripture as he previously had become in the classics. His example edified the brothers so much that he was made abbot (much against his will), an office that he performed with consummate wisdom. His own convent thrived, and he had a hand in founding a bunch of others nearby as well. Many of his disciples from that period went on to become canonized saints themselves. Soon his fame for holiness, scholarship, and prudence began to spread, and when he was about 55 Pope Stephen IX induced him to become Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia (Rome’s port city), so that he could be a permanent advisor to the Papacy. Before and after this appointment he received numerous special missions, in which as the Pope’s legate he was entrusted with resolving difficult situations with dukes, bishops, abbots, and even the emperor himself. All this time he was composing volumes and volumes of letters, treatises, and homilies, all of which demonstrate his great love for God and the Church, and his deep spiritual insight – for these he would later be named a Doctor of the Church.
It is a comment made in one of these letters that I want to point out to you. He wrote a letter to the Bishop of Florence in which he openly scolded him for having played a game of chess. Now, I do not claim that chess is in itself sinful, but prodded with this rebuke, the bishop recognized that he had spent his time in an unworthy manner and did penance – washing the feet of twelve poor people and giving each an alms.
You see, St Peter Damian knew the value of time, and he wanted to make sure that the unfortunate bishop didn’t waste any. In the same vein, I encourage you to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and talk heart to heart with our Lord, examining yourself on this point: are you being responsible in how you use your time or have you let the February “blahs” divert you. True, we all need a healthy amount of recreation and relaxation, but we are very good at deceiving ourselves about what constitutes “a healthy amount.”
God bless. Uncle Eddy