Tag Archives: Exile

Saint John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom was born around 340 into a military family in Antioch, in modern Turkey. After studying under Libanius, the great rhetorician of the day, John lived with monks in Syria for a few years, but poor health made him return to Antioch where he served the church for five years as a deacon, taking care of the poor.

Ordained a priest in 386, John became an outstanding preacher and bishop; his “golden mouth” (Chrysostom) delighted his hearers with sermons on the gospels and the letters of Paul. Appointed bishop of Constantinople, his sermons had the opposite effect on the rulers and churchmen of that city whom he attacked for their pomp and luxury. The Empress Eudoxia exiled him briefly from the city in 402 AD.

John returned to resume his fearless preaching against the city’s powerful political and church elite.  Eudoxia finally sent him into exile on the Black Sea after John gave a sermon that began “Again Herodias  is raging, again she is perturbed,  again she wants to receive the head of John on a dish.” Hardly a way to make friends  with royalty.

“ Glory be to God for everything. Amen” John said before he died on his way to exile. “If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear. Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are against me, they are as weak as a spider’s web.”

He died on September 14, 407 AD, the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate tomorrow.

We always need people like John Chrysostom with “golden mouths” to speak to power. In our prayer for his feast, we thank God for this bishop made “illustrious by his wonderful eloquence and his example of suffering,” a nice reminder that preaching isn’t just beautiful words. It can be a costly gift. Preaching can be a dangerous act. John died on a feast of the Holy Cross.

Notice too that John spent some years as a deacon, taking care of the poor. Preaching is also nourished by experience.

Here’s an example of his fearless preaching:

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.  Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!  If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear?

Heads of States at the United Nations

On the Van Wyck Expressway from Kennedy Airport warnings are flashing that leaders from all over the world are coming to the United Nations. The Letter to Timothy we’re reading this week tells us to pray for them:

“First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.”

The reading from the Book of Esra (Esra 1,1-6) reminds us how important authorities are in fulfilling God’s plan. Cyrus, the King of Persia (Modern Iran), moved by God, issues a decree letting the Jews return to Jerusalem after about 70 years so they can rebuild their city and its temple. It’s not about a human homecoming; their return furthered on the plan of God.

Our reading makes the point that God moves the heart of King Cyrus. God is not only the creator of the world but its real ruler. He’s king, the one with power to change directions as he wills, and he can even change powerful kings like Cyrus.

Reading the Old Testament helps us remember that God acts in the real world of human affairs and creation itself. God’s action is mysterious, beyond our thoughts and ways. God’s kingdom will come, but not according to the calculations of pundits or prognosticators, or “the wise and clever.” We may believe mistakingly that it’s all politics and human motives and natural causes, but “God is king,” the Old Testament proclaims.

To know God’s activity we have to look into “the signs of the times.” Cyrus told the Jews they could return to their homeland and rebuild, but they had to take him up on his offer. Some did, who saw it as a sign from God – “everyone, that is, whom God had inspired to do so.” Some didn’t, for a number of reason: they liked where they were, they feared being deceived, they lost faith. But faithful Jews took the journey back.

The Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World offers a powerful invitation to respond hopefully and generously today to “the signs of the times.” Our times are not without them. A new Eucharistic prayer prays for the grace to accept that invitation:

“Grant that all the faithful of the church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of the faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the gospel.”

“Keep us attentive to the needs of all that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of your kingdom.”

Let’s pray for  peace in Syria,  Certainly “signs of the times” are out there. May we be inspired by God to look for them.