Saturday, October 15, 2016

St. Antiochus of Lyons & the Will of God

Today the Church commemorates a truly great saint, St. Theresa of Avila.  A Doctor of the Church, she was at the same time one of the great mystical writers of all time and a hard-nosed pragmatist who, along with St. John of the Cross, led a much-need reform of the Carmelite order.  Her reform efforts were not welcome to everyone: she met strong, sometimes violent, resistance from her fellow Carmelites. We can all grow in Christ through her example of total surrender to our Lord, and it comes as no surprise that there are any number of beautifully written and insightful meditations on this amazing saint today.
    One disadvantage of the large shadow casts by giants of sanctity like St. Theresa, however, is that lesser-known saints who share the same day on the liturgical calendar can go unnoticed.  I’d like to look at one of these holy men and women, St. Antiochus of Lyons, whose feast we also celebrate on October 15th.
The sources I’ve been able to locate on St. Antiochus are brief, but tell an intriguing story.  He was a 5th century priest of Lyons, in what was then still called Gaul (the modern country of France).  The bishop of Lyons, St. Justus, abdicated his office and left for Egypt to become a hermit in the desert.  The people of Lyons sent Antiochus on the long journey to Egypt to persuade their holy shepherd to return to his flock.  Justus, apparently, was unwilling or unable to comply, and Antiochus returned home, an apparent failure.  The people of the diocese, however, recognizing that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21) saw in the failure of Antiochus’ mission a gift as well: a new bishop.  They promptly chose Antiochus to replace the departed Justus as their spiritual father.  We are told that he went about his new office “with zeal and firmness” until he was called to his final reward.

Egyptian hermitage
    St. Antiochus, very much like St. Bridget of Sweden, is one of those saints who seems to have failed in his primary mission, only to discover that his failure there really served to prepare him for a success greater than he had dared to imagine. We learn from the lives of saints like Antiochus is that the path to sanctity lies not so much in our own efforts as it does in accepting the will of God.  Even more, the failure of these holy men and women here on earth reminds us that whatever we do accomplish, or fail to do, here only matters for a little while; our true mission is not only loving and serving God in this world, as the Baltimore Catechism puts it, but enjoying eternal happiness with him in the next.
Let us all prayer for the Grace to join St. Antiochus, St. Theresa of Avila, and all their fellow saints before the Throne of God.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Keep The "Hallowed" In Halloween

    Autumn has officially begun, and here in Northern New England you can feel and see it: cool days, cold nights, and bright flashes of colorful leaves set against deep blue skies.  Halloween might still be a few weeks away, but it sure feels like it’s almost here. In the retail stores, with a wide array of ghastly, ghoulish, and gory Halloween accessories on display, it looks like it.  Given that, it seems like a good time for a Halloween rant.

Jesus shows Satan who's boss: "The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain"
by Duccio di Buoninsegna
    Let me hasten to add that I am not anti-Halloween on principle; I have defended the holiday in the past against the spurious charge that it is merely a remnant of our dark, pre-Christian, pagan past.  We do need to remember that Halloween is really Christian in origin.  It is a way in which believers can mock death and “the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  In making sport of the spawn of Satan we celebrate Christ’s Victory over Death (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).  That is, if we truly acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
    Here, however, is where we start to run into trouble with Halloween celebrations: even if it is not a product of pre-Christian paganism, what is the role of the holiday in a post-Christian society, a society that does not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ?  I was reminded of the relevance of this question the other day when I was in one of the aforementioned retail stores. I overheard a little boy who was admiring the creepy Halloween paraphernalia observe that in their house Halloween was by far the most important holiday, an observation smilingly confirmed by his mother. I had to ask myself, what exactly was this family celebrating? After all, whatever its Christian origin, All Hallow’s Eve is a mere afterthought compared to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany (and any number of lesser celebrations) that go straight to the heart of the Mystery of Christ.  Anybody who doesn’t bother with those is unlikely to be observing Halloween as any sort of Christian holy day.

"Haunted Doll" Halloween decoration from
    The little boy’s comment also ties in with something I’ve noticed more and more over the past few decades: as Christian belief and observance have declined, Halloween celebrations have become increasingly more elaborate, and correspondingly more macabre. We have forgotten Christ’s Victory, and so are left with only Death and Corruption, apparently unchallenged. A society that celebrates death and corruption for its own sake is, I submit, a society in deep trouble.
    As I said at the outset, I am not against Halloween per se, and I don’t advocate its abolition.  I do suggest that we who are Christians observe it in its proper context, including its original function as the prelude to All Saints Day (which is why, after all, it is called “Hallow’s Eve”).  You have no doubt heard in recent years calls to “Keep Christ in Christmas”; let’s also keep the Hallowed in Halloween.