Summary: Preaching and living a lifestyle conditioned by the precepts of the Gospel is not a particularly popular path, and may get you shunned, even exiled.
Thursday of 23rd Week in Course 2018
St. John Chrysostom
Today I am celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of the ordination of the diaconate class of 2002, and therefore my own ordination. As a preacher, it’s particularly happy to be ordained on the feast of St. John Chrysostom, who is the patron saint of preachers. But more on him in a moment. The humorous part of the ordination story is, first of all, that Abp Flores chose to ordain our very diverse and sometimes rebellious class on Friday the thirteenth. But second, during the ordination, when I and the other candidates prostrated ourselves in prayer and worship, my second daughter jumped up and almost ran to help me, because she thought for a moment I had collapsed.
These days it is pretty easy to find an enemy who hates us, but it’s no easier than it was in the days of Jesus to love him. Drive down many roads in Texas and you’ll find signs urging support for a nominal Catholic politician who wants taxpayers to fund the murder of children before they are born. So I pray for my enemies, for their conversion and healing. But I also pray for my nation, so that we reverse the effects of the culture of death and move forward with a culture of life.
A lot of the so-called “new political thought” is what St. Paul is talking about here to the Corinthians. The Greek word is “gnosis,” translated “knowledge.” But what it means is a kind of philosophical claptrap disguised as a higher understanding of reality. This kind of knowledge is entirely human, a way of looking at the world that ignores the divine natural law. It is particularly hostile to God’s law of human living, especially God’s will regarding the human family, sexuality and reproduction. God’s way is a way of self-giving, of pouring oneself out so completely that you act even against your own self-interest as you help others, especially the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, the elderly. That helps us understand why he says here that if one of his Christian friends is scandalized by someone eating meat that has been offered to idols, when that’s about the only meat easily available in the Corinthian marketplace, Paul will simply stop eating meat altogether. He does not want to scandalize anyone, so he bends over backwards to avoid it.
John Chrysostom was born in the middle of the fourth century, and the fourth century was kind of a mess. Christianity was legal because of Constantine’s edict, but it was not the majority religion. Arianism, which denied Christ’s essential divinity, was more prevalent than Catholicism. Emperor Constantius was a kind of Arian, and a bloody one at that, who had all his potential successors murdered except for Julian. And Julian was a closet pagan, who rebuilt pagan temples and even tried unsuccessfully to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He was however killed in battle when John was about fourteen. John himself studied under a pagan philosopher, but was baptized in late adolescence and fell in love with the person and teachings of Christ.
He “lived in extreme asceticism and became a hermit in about 375; he spent the next two years continually standing, scarcely sleeping, and committing the Bible to memory. As a consequence of these practices, his stomach and kidneys were permanently damaged and poor health forced him to return to Antioch.” He was ordained a deacon in 381 during a time when the bishops of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria were not in communion. During his lifetime, he brought about the reunion of those churches. “In Antioch, over the course of twelve years (386–397), John gained popularity because of the eloquence of his public speaking at the Golden Church, Antioch's cathedral, especially his insightful expositions of Bible passages and moral teaching. . .He emphasized charitable giving and was concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor. He spoke against abuse of wealth and personal property.” His preaching was Biblical and practical and effective.
He later became archbishop of Constantinople, but preached and lived an ascetical lifestyle that was not popular with party-going aristocrats. He suffered persecution, shunning, even exile because of his leadership and preaching. He died in exile from his diocese, with praise of God on his lips. St. John Chrysostom, pray for the Church and pray for us.