|Bravely Facing the Dark Tunnel of Confusion.
The Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the proper, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I John 5: 1-5.
• Psalm 37: 3-6, 30-31.
• Matthew 10: 22-25.
…or, from the feria:*
• Acts 16: 11-15.
• Psalm 149: 1-6, 9.
• John 15: 26—16: 4.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Corinthians 4: 5-14.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• Matthew 10: 23-28.
Monday of the Man Born Blind; and, the Feast of Our Holy Father Athanasius the Great.
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Acts 17: 1-15.
• Hebrews 7: 26—8: 2.
• John 11: 47-56.
• Matthew 5: 14-19.
9:43 AM 5/2/2016 — As you know, we've been following the Blessed Apostle Paul as he visits all these different places in the Hellenistic world baptizing converts and preaching the Gospel; and, as time went on, the Churches in these places would send out missionaries of their own to even more remote places. One of these was the city of Alexandria in what is now Egypt. Once the capitol of Alexander the Great, Paul never wrote a letter to the Christians there, at least not one that's extent, as there's no Epistle to the Alexandrians in the New Testament. But, by the fourth century, when today's saint, Athanasius, was Bishop of Alexandria, Northern Africa and the Middle East were almost entirely Catholic. In fact, the Roman Province of Northern Africa was the most vibrant and active part of the Church, more so than Rome itself. And, as we know from our own experience here in America, when a local Church becomes large and prosperous and rich, it easily falls into sin.
Alexandria was the biggest diocese in the Catholic Church—the Chicago or New York of its day—and was the home of the biggest heresy that ever threatened the True Faith. It all started with a priest of Athanasius' own diocese, though he lived long before Athanasius was born, named Arius. Like many priests of his time—perhaps even of our time—he was looking for a way to make Christianity more palatable to the pagans around him; and, he concluded that, if the Church could only see her way clear to present Jesus in the same way the Greeks presented their philosophers—like a philosophical teacher without all this religion stuff getting in the way—people would be more inclined to accept the Church’s message. If we could just leave out all that stuff about morality, and all these complicated rituals and liturgies, and just preach Christianity as a philosophy of brotherly love, then all kinds of people would flock to the Church. Needless to say, Arius became very popular; and, for a while, his heresy, which became known as Arianism, was so popular that, at one point, most of the world’s bishops and priests believed and were preaching it. In fact, from the latter part of the third century right through to the middle of the fourth, every single bishop of the Catholic Church in Northern Africa, the largest province of the Church in Catholicism, was preaching that Jesus was a very nice and grace-filled man, but not God—every bishop, that is, except one. Athanasius stood alone. The Pope was on his side, but the Pope was far away in Rome, and could do nothing to help other than write letters, which were all, of course, politely ignored. For seventeen years, Athanasius was exiled from his diocese, unable to care for his flock, while heretics in his own diocese led countless souls away from the worship of Jesus Christ as Lord and God. But when the Emperor, who himself had been an Arian heretic, called an ecumenical council of the Church at Nicea to try and heal the Church's divisions, Athanasius somehow found his way there, and stood in the middle of that assembly and shouted loud and clear words that would forever become engrained in the hearts of Christians for centuries: that Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten and not made, con-substantial with the Father, and through Him all things were made.” That council took those words, and put them into a creed, and commanded that every Christian for all time would be required to recite those words every Sunday, and believe them, as a condition for receiving the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Many months ago, during the time that the Synod of Bishops was having its first meetings in Rome on the subject of marriage and family life, there was a widely reported exchange in which a Catholic woman approached our Holy Father and asked him why her Lutheran husband could not receive Holy Communion when he accompanied her to Holy Mass; but, one need not be a pope to give the answer. You and I can give the answer. The Blessed Eucharist is Jesus, and receiving Him is not simply a symbolic gesture of fellowship, as the Protestants believe: it is both the sacramental reality of our Lord's Body and Blood that gives grace, and a declaration of unity in the Mystical Body of Christ, a Mystical Body which, as a community of faith, holds to certain truths. One cannot be a member of that Body unless one is united in faith with that Body. That's why we recite the Creed toward the beginning of the Sunday Mass: because if one doesn't believe, one isn't a member, and one cannot worthily receive. And if one does believe, then there can be no excuse for not joining the Church that excepts and teaches those truths.
I had mentioned last Saturday, on the Memorial of Saint Pius V, how we tend to lose our historical perspective, and how the life and example of that saintly Pope can serve to remind us of how many times Holy Mother Church has traveled through the dark tunnel of confusion and discord. Multiply that by ten and you have the time in which Saint Athanasius lived. He died in exile, and it wouldn't be until hundreds of years after his death that he would be vindicated and his life set before us all as an example of both the virtues of Faith and Hope. The Prayer over the Offerings, which we will pray in just a few moments, expresses the hope, I'm sure, of all of us: that “the offerings we present … in commemoration of Saint Athanasius … bring salvation to those who profess, as he did, an unblemished faith” (RM3).
* For some reason, the Ordo mentions only the lessons from the feria, with no reference to the proper lessons provided for the memorial, and does this consistently throughout the Easter Season; but, this is clearly an editorial preference, as nothing in the Roman Missal prohibits the proper lessons from being taken, even during Easter.