The second day of Lent
On each Thursday in Lent, we will consider a hero of the faith whose story exemplifies in some way the lenten spirit. Our saint for this first Thursday of Lent is Saint David of Wales. A fuller account of his life may be found at this link.
Born in the latter half of the 5th century, David was the son of a noble woman named Non. She had entered the religious life at the convent of Ty Gwyn, but her beauty had attracted the attention of a local prince who forced himself upon her, leaving her pregnant with the future saint. David was born in the midst of a violent storm on the coast near Menevia (modern Saint Davids). The ruins of a chapel and a holy well mark the spot to this day. Given his mother's religious vocation, it is not surprising that David was drawn to a vocation in the Church early on. He studied under Saint Paulinus of Wales and Saint Illtyd and, after he was ordained to the priesthood, he set about evangelizing the still largely pagan land of Wales. He founded several monasteries, the greatest of which was at Menevia where he presided as abbot. The rule of this monastery emphasized simplicity of life. The monks did not use animals to pull the plough, but pulled it themselves. They did not drink wine or eat meat. David himself got the nickname "the waterman" from the fact that he drank only water and also because he would often spend hours immersed up to his neck in cold water while he prayed.
In 545, David was summoned to a synod of the Church in Wales at Brefi (later known as Llandewi Brefi, "the holy place of David at Brefi"). The synod was called to address matters of church discipline and to deal with the spreading heresy of Pelagianism. As David preached eloquently against heresy, the ground miraculously rose up beneath him so that all who were present could see him and hear him more clearly. And a dove settled upon his shoulder as a sign of God's grace. Moreover, Saint Dyfrig, then Archbishop of Wales, was so moved that he resigned the archbishopric in favor of David. David lived to a very great age and died on March 1, 589, in Menevia. In his last sermon to his monastic brothers, he urged them to "Be joyful, and keep your faith and creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about." To "do the little things" became a popular saying in Wales, a reminder that the pursuit of holiness does not require great heroics but is just as frequently found in a life of simplicity and quiet faith.
How often do we begin Lent with elaborate plans for a season of concentrated piety and ascetical living, only to find ourselves slipping backwards and making excuses for our failure to keep the overly ambitious lenten rule we have set? More often than not, the problem is not in our lack of devotion but in our biting off more than we can chew. Sometimes the problem is simply a lack of realism in our aspirations. Sometimes it is the more dangerous motive of pride. What we need instead is the gift of simplicity. A life of simplicity is a life free from unnecessary distractions and unreasonable demands--distractions and demands which we often invent and impose on ourselves. To do the little things--to be faithful in prayer; to be a friend to the friendless as well as those we love; to have, to use, and to share what we need and not to be possessed by our possessions--these are the things that make us and the world whole. The familiar Shaker song says it well:
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to
'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend
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