by Guest Author Michael S. O'Connell
Thorlaksmessa, the feast of St. Thorlak, falls on 23 December.
While this post originally appears a few days early, Thorlaksmessa will arrive just before Christmas and our two -week holiday hiatus. Please enjoy the reflection here in anticipation of St. Thorlak's special feast day, and we will be back in 2019!
As we mark the 4th weekend of Advent this year, we pass through the day with the least amount of daylight and move ever more gradually back to more light with each successive day. Very appropriate that, after lighting the 4th candle, the Advent season ushers in Christmas Day. The beloved disciple John reminds us that the Christ-child "... was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
The day of the 4th Sunday of Advent this year, December 23rd, the 4th Sunday of Advent, marks the feast day of Saint Thorlak Thorhallson of Iceland. Long venerated by the people of Iceland and their Scandinavian neighbors, Thorlak was officially recognized on January 14, 1984 as Iceland's patron saint by St. John Paul II. What does this quiet medieval bishop have to say to our own times? Perhaps we can see through the Beatitudes of Our Lord.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” St. Thorlak, you were blessed with a keen intellect, and rose within Mother Church to the heights of the bishopric; yet whatever office you held, you sought out the lowliest in your humility, and served with a truly grateful heart for God. Pray for us!
"Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted." St. Thorlak, you lived in a time where life could not be taken for granted and was more often than not cut short through disease or starvation. You endured your own crosses, from the breakup of your family due to financial concern as a young boy, to separation from them as Divine Providence would have you finish your education overseas. Pray for us!
"Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the land." St. Thorlak, you guided your flock with attentiveness and humility. Your benefactors would provide material support for your rise in the Church, yet at the pinnacle of your education and prestige, you would turn to your homeland as a humble priest to serve your fellow countrymen. Pray for us!
"Blessed are those hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied." St. Thorlak, you strove with all your heart to help those in need, feeding and clothing those who could not pay you back, bestowing kindness on your parishioners by building up virtue from the bottom up, and realizing that even as bishop you provided the model of a humble servant. Pray for us!
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." St. Thorlak, in a time when mercy was not readily associated with the Catholic Church, you took it upon yourself to bear the burden of the penances of sinners who came to you in the sacrament of Confession. Even as you lay on your deathbed, you sought after those who by their own actions separated themselves from Holy Mother Church, showing Divine Mercy even then by providing a path back into the flock. Pray for us!
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” St. Thorlak, you ordered your life faithfully around prayer: conforming yourself to the rule of St. Augustine and affirming the virtue of priestly celibacy at a time when cultural norms encouraged the opposite. Pray for us!
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." St. Thorlak, you lived your life among rival chieftains who would seek to undercut the authority of the Church. You fought them through God's gift of wisdom, using the power of reason and love to change men's hearts. You appeared before a King to be consecrated at a time of active warfare between many in Norway and Iceland. You served the interests of peace with your disarming honesty and dialectical reasoning, assuring peaceful relations between the two countries for the balance of your bishopric. Pray for us!
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." St. Thorlak, you would serve the Church with holiness, but would be opposed by those in power. They called you the fool for adhering to the laws of Christ's Church. They would even seek to end your life prematurely only to, as the Psalmist wrote, to fall in the pit themselves. Pray for us!
Illustration by Sigurbjorg Eyjolfsdottir
On December 23,1193, Thorlak Thorhallson entered into eternal rest. We rejoice and are glad, as his reward in heaven is great; we ask his intercession for us as his mission continues. St. Thorlak, pray for us, now and always!