Homily from the Canonisation of St John Ogilvie:
“You just have listened to the reading of a short biographical profile of John Ogilvie, made by Cardinal Corrado Bafile, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. So you know already much about him; you know that he was a son of a blessed land from the history of other saints dear to the Church, like Saint Columba and Saint Margaret: he was Scottish; you know that having come to the Continent he resolutely converted to Catholicism; you know that he was a young member of the Company of Jesus, in the original period (end of 16th century and beginning of the 17th) of his ardent and fruitful apostolic soldiering; you know that the martyrdom cut short his life at thirty five years of age. And it now happens that a mortal citizen of the earth is recognised as an immortal citizen of heaven, that is he is canonised, the joy therefore it prevails in faithful hearts, that every other feeling is almost dazzled by it, and every other consideration is superfluous to our spiritual joy; he is a Saint, we say, and that is enough for us to admire of the figure, for direct our devotion, to invoke his celestial intercession.
But then two moments follow in the attentive souls, one of hagiographic reflection and one of ascetic imitation. And that is the light, which the new Saint projects around himself, it invites us to observe the vicissitudes of his life and to seek the historical and spiritual meaning: a Saint, why? it is asked of us. Which are the titles that they justify the attribution of this highest prerogative, what is holiness? which is the historical, psychological and moral meaning of this exceptional life? And in the end his particular value bewitches us, and his religious and moral rays makes us admirers, disciples, followers, friends of the Saint, to whom we would want to be tied in some spiritual bond.
Enough of the life of the Saint, observed with loving intelligence, in order to reveal many things to us of the Reign of God. There is over a beautiful roman hill, a very famous villa to the pilgrim, that bringing the eye to the small opening of the lock of the door, it sees with surprise the outline, against the sky, the perfect and majestic cupola of the Basilica of Saint Peter, almost as an other-worldly vision. Therefore the lived vicissitude of one who, like every Saint, allows us to catch a glimpse through himself, the Christ, that he is His and that he, in an always personal and original way reveals. And behold that the short biography of the Saint, that we celebrate today, many, very many things of immense interest we are allowed to glimpse! the historical picture, to start, characterized from the great crises of the several expressions of the Protestant Reform, Luterana, Anglican, Calvinist and Presbiterian, checked with immense, but not invalid hard work of the Council of Trent, and with the intense resumption of the catholic life, often tormented by wars, religious fights and, also, decadent customs. The Christianity falls apart, and at this time supports the permanence of incurable confessional divisions, to which modern Ecumenism would tries to place some resolute remedy. The figure of our Saint is not comprehensible outwith this agitated spiritual storm.
But we will not stop in this moment here our attention, thinking to be enough for our devotion the search of the focal point of the life of the new Saint. This point is in the first place personal; it is obvious; it is every the focal point of every martyr, what form has the deep reason of his holiness, and therefore of his gloria; and that is: there is in the human life an advanced value to that same life; there is a duty that exceeds all the others; there is a certainty that compares with whichever other cannot ever be refuted; there is a necessary thing against which every other thing must be deflected and, if is necessary, sacrificed. This value, this duty, this certainty, this necessary thing is the faith, it is the truth of the faith. This absoluteness recognised in the faith is the central nucleus of the psychology of the martyr, that is of witness of Christ. It is also for John Ogilvie.
We are often given to consider in martyrdom the physical suffering, the atrocious and cruel suffering to which they are subjected, more than the motive, it is the horror that they provoke in our mind and our sensibility. But this suffering does not hold the title of specific greatness nor their authority to our regard. We remembers Augustine saying that it is not the pain, but their cause of the pain that makes the true martyrs: “quod martyres veros not faciat poena, sed cause” (S. AUGUSTINI Ep. 89: PL 2, 310).
And which it was the cause of the martyrdom of the Ogilvie? It is easy to discover it: the faith, we said. But the faith is a world: which point of the faith, which truth of the faith was made the centre the combat of his martyrdom? The voice authorized by Christ to announce:
“you will be my witnesses” (Act. 1, 8), witnesses, heralds, martyrs. “Go and teach” (Matth. 28, 19): “who listens to you, listens to me” (Luc. 10, 16) said Jesus. The Church as teacher, the faith taught from an authority, before the same book that documents it; we would say the authentic Ecclesiology today, which in the Reformation became the epicentre of the controversies that upset the foundational religious unity from Christ.
Having uncovered this central and sorrowful point of the testimony of John Ogilvie we will not go further in our discourse; it will be enough for us to record that the holiness of our hero is characterised by his testimony of devotion to the Magisterium of the Church and to faith in the Mass, cultic action that celebrates the Word of God and really it renders it present. But now we do not want to make of the praise of Ogilvie a controversial discourse. We want rather to express the sovereign hope that his martyrdom is useful to confirm our faith in the Magisterium of the Church and the sacramental and sacrificial prodigy of the Eucaristia. The hope that around to these sum truths testified from the new Saint the steps converge, the hearts converge of those who then, at the moment of its martyrdom, condemned him like traitor of the loyalty due to the civil Power of his native land, while rather was he not the affirmer of the autonomy of religious Power according to the eternal sentence of Christ the Lord: “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s” (Matth. 22, 21).
Therefore, then, with serene understanding of the dramas of the past history, and with friendly foretelling of a happier future history, we can today attribute to the glory of our Martyr, with how many others suffered for the same cause, the merit to have heroically contributed with his sacrifice to re-vindicate religious freedom to civilization, which the recent Council has illustrated in its declaration “Dignitatis Humanae»: nobody must be forced, nobody must be prevented from professing religion, while for all there is the serious moral obligation to try to follow the truth, and religious truth especially (Dignitatis Humanae, 2, 6, 9; S. AUGUSTINI Contra litteras Petiliani: PL 43, 315).
Therefore the Saint from we venerate, far from being the emblem of civil or spiritual discord, soothes the ill omened memory of the violence or the abuse of authority for religious purpose, and will help us all to resolve the relative disputes of our respective creed in the direction of mutual respect, serene search and faithful adhesion to the Truth in order to recompose that one yearned for that is unity of charity and faith, that Christ taught to us to be supreme expression of his Gospel (Cfr. Jn. 17).
And so that we all are rendered worthy to reach this epilogue of our hagiographic celebration, and this source of ascetic imitation, let us invoke humble and faithfully: Saint John Ogilvie, prays for us!