Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Dear brothers and sisters, how precious it is to be gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist here at Magdalene; this is a moment together in Cambridge we will remember all our lives.
There are three W’s that should go hand-in-hand in our life: wisdom, worship, and work. We should especially not forget that here in Cambridge.
In our first reading (1 Kings 11:4-13), we heard how Solomon deviated from this path. The Lord promised - and gave him - ‘a wise heart as none before [you has] had and none will after [you will have]’ (1 Kings 3:12) - and riches and glory also. But Solomon’s heart grew slow and proud. And, despite having wisdom, his worship became poor and, eventually, sinful. He turned to the pagan gods of the earth and goddesses of fertility. In a bit of a misogynistic note, the Bible states that ‘his wives swayed his heart to other gods’.
But the truth is that, at the end of the day, everyone chooses and follows or rejects God by him or herself. We are here in this University mainly to grow in Wisdom - in knowledge, in reasoning. That is very good, but it is also risky. We can slowly drift from our friendship with God, attracted and distracted by so many people and things. Each one of us needs to identify who, for us, are the gods of Sidon, Moab and Ammon in our first reading.
It is also important to develop the wisdom of faith: knowing the Scriptures better, the spirituality and doctrine of the Christian faith. This time at university is precious, a time like no other in life - ‘none before; none after’. Therefore, it is good to seize any opportunity to know more and know better.
But wisdom also requires sound worship. Sound worship is not just about the rubrics, though they also convey right prayer. But we can be very precise in our liturgy and worship, and, yet, have a proud heart that judges and condemns others.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 7:24-30), we read of the encounter of Jesus and this Syrophenician woman, from the city of Tyre. It is good to note that this is the same area from where the ‘women’ that divided Solomon’s heart from the Lord came from. In this case, though, the pagan woman moves the heart of God himself.
The attitude of Jesus related in the Gospel of Mark is embarrassing. There are numerous attempts to explain these hard words of Jesus: maybe an indirect teaching to the disciples about the faith of those outside the boundaries of religion and nation. This woman asks, insists, humbles herself as only a mother can do and trusts in the power of Jesus. And so, she obtains the cure her daughter. Her worship was strong, but she was also wise, and Jesus commended her words: ‘for saying this, you may go home happy’. So, wisdom and worship.
This is also the tradition of the saint we celebrate today: St Scholastica and the Benedictine tradition, that was behind the foundation of this very place as a Benedictine priory before becoming Magdalene College. From monastic life, Cambridge kept the style of psalmodic prayer, the arrangement of the chapels in choirs, and the collegiate system. And that is a silent lesson in a balanced life of study and prayer.
Monastic life saved European culture and history during dark times. But monastic life is not just about praying and studying. It is also about work. Ora et labora became the motto of the Benedictine life. And work also means engagement. It is important that, as Christians, we engage with the people around us, bringing them the beauty of the Gospel, without falling into a sectarian or strange lifestyle that can obscure the very Word of Jesus that came to save the world.
Let us pray and commit ourselves to a life of three W’s: wisdom, worship, and work. And so help God transform this world and make it shine with God’s love and glory.
This homily was preached by Fr Pablo de Lima, who celebrated Mass at Magdalene College Chapel on Thursday 10 February 2022, on the Feast of St Scholastica.
We thank Revd Sarah Atkins, Chaplain at Magdalene College, for welcoming us so warmly, and hosting us for a reception in the Parlour following the Mass; and the organist and choristers who enriched our liturgy with such beautiful music.