Monday, May 2, 2011

St Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church

2 Corinthians 4:5-14 / Matthew 10:23-28

Today the world echoes with the news of death and the news of life. Of death, for it has been reported that Osama bin Laden, who had masterminded the deaths of countless men and women throughout the world, African, Arabs, Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, has been killed in Pakistan by the actions of the American military. Of life, because the festivities continue in honor of the eternal life and merciful intercession of Blessed John Paul II, beatified only yesterday before a crowd of over a million persons. Both events have become, sometimes strangely enough for the same people, a cause of much rejoicing.

Wherever our politics may lie, whatever we may think the just and Christian response to al-Qaeda, however we respond to the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in general about the "War on Terror," we who are born again in Christ cannot let the ghoulish delight in the death of a man, however sinister the man and however justified the death, cast a shadow across the inexhaustible life and sovereign joy we celebrate in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. Ours is a message of power, yes, but a power which softens hearts, shines with mercy, and brings to life. Ours is a message of deliverance from fear, yes, but not from them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul.

The Gospel, unlike the dark words and works of al-Qaeda, but also unlike the bloodthirsty rejoicing of those who dance in the streets over the death of a wicked man, is a message for which those who are most alive, those most joyful in Christ, will gladly suffer in love. Not the destruction of our earthly persecutors, not in making our lives safe, but our conformity to Christ through our sharing in his suffering is what is the cause for Easter joy. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straightened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not; always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. Indeed, it is the suffering in love of the Body of Christ that is the doorway to victory of the forces arrayed against us: death, sin, and Hell. And it is the rising of Christ in his body that guarantees that those who suffer in his Body the Church will take part in his glorious rising from the grave. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

This was the suffering love Jesus made known on the Cross and the life eternal revealed on Easter day. This was the suffering love endured by St Athanasius, who for the sake of the truth of the Gospel against heretics and the proponents of worldly peace, fled persecution from one city to another, but sustained for the whole of the Church the apostolic faith. this was the suffering love of Blessed John Paul II, whose own experience of frailty and illness never dulled his paschal confidence in the power of the Word of life.

On the lips of many today and in the days to come will be words of suffering ended, words of the death of a man, and words of rejoicing. In whose suffering, in whose death will we be rejoicing, and whose name will be on our lips?

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