Summary: The message of Christ is the only one that makes sense for the healing of our world in any age, but it’s not an easy one to hear and obey.
Tuesday of the 15th Week in Course 2019
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Saint Athenogenes
Today is the Memorial of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which commemorates the appearance of the Mother of Jesus to St. Simon Stock, an early Carmelite leader, and his reception of the Brown Scapular from her hands. So we celebrate this day with and pray for all those men and women who give their lives as Carmelites. But it’s also another festival, and I’ll share an important prayer of that feast with you later.
Our readings today continue those that began weeks ago with the story of the Israelites from Genesis, the tales of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his son Joseph. This is the story of how a man from Mesopotamia came to Canaan and became a great nation down in Egypt. Today’s story takes place in the midst of a planned genocide of Jews. The Egyptian Pharaoh has ordered all the male children to be killed, but the baby girls to be spared. This is ironic, because Jewish heritage traditionally comes through the women–you’re a Jew if your mother was a Jew. At any rate, this little Hebrew boy was hidden until it was no longer possible, and then he was placed in a basket in the river, instead of being drowned. His sister watched and saw Pharaoh’s daughter have pity and take the child. Then the clever girl manipulated things so that his own mother could be his nurse, and thus the Hebrew Moses became an Egyptian. His hot temper, and racial identity, took him to the land of Midian, where we’ll see he has a vision of God.
Our Lord, too, had righteous anger. Chorazin and Bethsaida were apparently very hostile to His message and His works. Jesus worked miracles therein but people refused to believe Him. Why not? Why was Christ so frustrated there, and even in His home base, Capernaum? The message of Christ boils down to two responsibilities: love God above all things, and have the same effective love for your neighbor–even your enemy–as you have for yourself. That means daily forgiveness of not just the tiny slights people do to us, but even the huge evils they do. So, in our day, we have to forgive–and work against–the apostles of abortion and sexual perversion. We must pray for the criminals in our prisons, and do good for bums and prostitutes, while supporting those who work for their conversion and healing. The message of Christ is the only one that makes sense for the healing of our world in any age, but it’s not an easy one to hear and obey.
Let me now take you back to the early fourth century, when an emperor named Diocletian was in charge of a huge Roman empire. He believed that only by going back to the old ways would he unite the empire and restore it to greatness and glory. So his governors, many of them, demanded that everyone participate in the sacrifices to the pagan gods and the divinity of the emperor. Of course, Christians could not do that, and they were martyred by the bushel.
Athenogenes was an Eastern bishop and theologian “in the city of Sebastea in Cappadocia. The governor Philomachos arranged a large festival in honor of the pagan gods and called upon the citizens of Sebastea to offer sacrifices to the idols. Most of the inhabitants of Sebastea were Christians, and refused to participate in the impious celebration. Soldiers were ordered to kill those who resisted, and so many Christians received a martyr’s crown.
“Despite the persecutions, Christianity flourished in the region. It soon came to the governor’s attention that Christianity was spreading because of the grace-filled preaching of Bishop Athenogenes. . .. Bishop Athenogenes and ten of his disciples lived in a small monastery not far from the city. The soldiers did not find the bishop there, so they arrested his disciples. The governor ordered that they be bound with chains and cast into prison. Bishop Athenogenes was arrested when he came to Sebastea to inform the judge that those who had been jailed were innocent. While in prison, Athenogenes encouraged his spiritual children, preparing them for their impending struggle. Led forth to trial, all the holy martyrs confessed themselves Christians and refused to offer sacrifice to idols.” As Athenogenes was himself led to the executioner, he sang a hymn, now sung in the Eastern churches every Vespers. It’s called the Phos Hilaron, for the first words in Greek: “O gladsome Light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. For it is right at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life. Therefore the world glorifies Thee.” To which we can all say, Amen.