Saint Athanasius: A man for today’s Church

AthanasiusToday is the feast day of Saint Athanasius, the 20th bishop of Alexandria who lived from c. 296 – 373.  He is best known for his strong convictions and his lead role in the First Council of Nicaea against the Arian heresy in 325.

At the root of the Arian heresy was the holding that Jesus Christ is of a different substance (separate) from God the Father.  Athanasius proved himself to be a pillar of strong theology and orthodoxy, holding fast to the truth of the divinity of Christ.  Athanasius engaged in this struggle against the Arians for most of his life and this earned him five official exiles from four different Roman emporers, not including six more instances where he was forced from Alexandria for his own personal safety.

I first became acquainted with the virtues of Saint Athanasius through his famous quotation:

If the world goes against Truth, then Athanasius goes against the world.

I believe that his wisdom applies directly to the situation we find ourselves in today as a Church.  Today (at least in the United States), we have a legion of under-catechized, lukewarm Catholics that do not know the tenants of their Faith.  They allow themselves to be molded not by the Truth, but by a secular culture that wants everyone to “get along to get along” and in doing so distorts the actual teachings of Jesus.  This leads people toward the dangerous precipice of a life lived apart from Christ.

The quotation above should be the clarion call of all faithful Catholics.  We are called to be witnesses of the absolute Truth of Christ even if that causes us persecution, exile, pain, or death.  Saint Athanasius embodied these virtues throughout his life, and I can identify with the necessity of such conviction.  It is easy for us to be steamrolled by popular opinion, political tides, or well-intentioned but ignorant friends and family.  Our goal, following in the footsteps of this great saint, is to be educated in the Faith, to recognize the Truth, and to accurately and ardently present that Truth to those that would erode or ignore it.

Saint Athanasius, pray for us!


Keeping Easter Alive

As we discussed last week, here are some ideas for keeping the celebration of Easter near and dear to your heart.

Continue your Lenten observances.

This year, I aimed to do more spiritual reading during Lent.  I was able to succeed in this, however one of my more ambitious goals was to get through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.  Let’s just say that I bit off more than I could chew with that tremendous work.  I have decided to continue my efforts, and I think it is more reasonable to aim to complete this book by the time next Lent rolls around!

What’s this do for you: well, for me it keeps me focused on deepening my faith.  In addition, I will continue reading other Catholic works such as Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth series.  It’s a great way to understand Christ’s life, what better way to celebrate the season of Easter!

No Meat on Fridays?

One of my favorite apologists, Matt Fradd, has decided to continue abstaining from meat on Fridays beyond Lent.  This started a discussion in our household, because I was already thinking about doing this same thing (since it is still present in Canon Law after all).  Interestingly, my wife was also considering a continuance of this beyond Lent so we decided that after Pentecost we are going to keep going with no meat Fridays in our house.

What’s this do for you: it keeps an appropriately penitential spirit throughout the year.  I found that during Lent, I would often remember that it was “no-meat Friday” and think about Christ’s Passion and what he gave up for us.  Why are we waiting until after Pentecost to start this?  Because we figure Easter is a time of celebration and it seems like as good a time as any.

Spiritual Development for your Family

With Easter being a season of celebration, it is no better time to do some course-setting for the upcoming year.  Several different sources have suggested some manner of a spiritual development plan for your family: prayers to do, observances to keep (like no-meat Fridays!), Catholic movies or books to consume… even as far as to create a Family Mission Statement that encompasses what your family wants to be about spiritually.

Do you want to help the poor?  Then your family mission statement should say so and you should take actions during the year to help the poor.  Do you want to deepen your faith?  Then you might focus on watching spiritual movies and reading more books this year.  This is particularly valuable if you have children that are old enough to participate as well so you can help them develop their understanding of the faith better.

What’s this do for you: this helps you act as the spiritual head of the family. This will help you get “on the same page” as your spouse, lead your children with a proper formation, and provide a great example for other families.

Spiritual Development for your Community

You can apply this same concept to your parish or Church community as well.  A great example of this is participating in social programs that are designed to bring people together to discuss their faith and evangelize together.  I am positive that your parish probably has more events than you know of going on, so check with your parish priest or activities director to find out what you can do to get involved.

If you happen to be in a rare parish that doesn’t have anything going on, you can increase your spiritual development by simply attending Mass more, or attending your normal Mass and taking one step out of your way to speak to parishoners around you after Mass.  You might make a friend and get to know someone better!  Some Churches even run evangelization programs, where you can learn how to effectively share your faith with others.

What’s this do for you: These activities help you get out beyond your own perspective and share the Faith with others.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn if you just talk to some other members of the parish.  They might know people in need, or be involved in an interesting program, or simply want to discuss today’s Gospel with you.  It’s all good for you and good for the Church community.

I hope that some of these ideas help you to celebrate Easter and carry on deepening your Faith all throughout the year!


You’ve Lost That Easter Feeling…

It’s nearly impossible not to sing a verse from The Righteous Brothers with that title, isn’t it?

We’re coming up on the third Sunday of Easter and many people don’t seem to realize that it’s still Easter.  That’s right, the Easter season (sometimes referred to as Eastertide) starts on Easter Sunday and lasts until Pentecost Sunday.  Generally speaking, everyone acknowledges the importance of Easter Sunday but it seems attention and Mass attendance wanes the further away from Lent we get.

Collectively, we all seem to do a pretty good job during the Lenten season… we give something up, stick to it (most of us), and recognize that we’re doing it in memory of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  There’s extra observances to pay attention to like fasting on Fridays, extra activities like the Stations of the Cross, and it’s generally just easier to stay focused.

But then, Easter Sunday rolls around and we all celebrate as well we should.  Using our household as an example, we quickly return to the habit that we gave up for Lent despite the fact that we intended to keep it up for longer than just Lent.  That “boom, it’s over!” mentality is part of what I think takes away from the impression that Easter Sunday should make.

My wife, Tasha, and I were talking about this phenomenon.  She commented that it helps her to keep focused on the joy of Easter by remembering the sorrowful part of the end of Lent.  She imagines what it must have been like for Mary and the Apostles to see the Lord beaten, crucified, and buried and the sense of desperation and loss that must have gripped them.  She noted how much easier it is for us because we had the rest of the story, we know the happy ending and we can take it for granted.

I appreciate the Easter season because of all of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ that we get to hear about.  I love to reflect on the confusion and joy that is experienced by the Apostles.  I love the accounts of Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus and the Sea of Tiberias in such a way where those that knew him on Earth initially don’t recognize him.  It makes me stop and think if I would recognize Christ if he were to present himself like this to me.  I put myself in the shoes of the Apostles and think about what it must have been like to behold Christ this way.

What was next for these men?  It was a life of travels, trials, persecution, and death.  All but John were killed for preaching in the name of Christ.  This is a testament to their experiences… this wasn’t just some hallucination to them.  They didn’t make it up.  They believed fervently enough to suffer and die for the Lord because they saw him both suffer and die in an earthly body and then return to them in a glorified body.  The Easter season presents an opportunity to learn alongside these men what truly experiencing God is all about.

Over the last few weeks, I have come across many resources that suggest using the Easter season to regroup and reform your spiritual life so that you can live out the year in a more faithful way.  In my next article, we’ll look at a few of these ideas in detail.  Stay tuned!