3rd Tuesday of Easter Time
Acts 2:7-51-8:3; John 6:30-35
The first reading for today’s mass speaks of Saint Stephen’s passionate denunciation of his oppressors and of his being stoned to death in response. Special mention is made of Saint Paul who gave his approval to the killing of this first Christian martyr. Neither of these accounts is well-suited for the Feast of the Bishop Athanasius, except that, like Saints Stephen and John, he was possessed of a strong character and lively intelligence and given special graces in his life.
Already as a young cleric 27 years of age he was chosen by the Patriarch of Alexandria to accompany him as an advisor to the first Ecumenical Council, held at Nicea in 325 AD. So capable did he prove to be that he was named the successor to Alexander, who died only shortly after the Council. Athanasius was a young man when he became the Bishop of this important Catholic See just a few years later in 328. He was to become increasingly active in subsequent years. As a result, he met with strong opposition by Arians and Melitian schismatics. They were numerous enough with their followers that he was forced into exile. Undaunted, he took his case to the Pope in Rome who approved him as orthodox in his faith.
His trials, however, did not end at that point. For years he was forced to defend himself from repeated attacks. Repeatedly he was accused and attacked so that he experienced further exiles, on one occasion escaping from the Emperor’s troops who attempted to capture him during a mass. Resourceful as ever he managed to escape and fled to the Libyan desert. For six years he managed to evade his powerful enemies, helped by loyal clergy and monks. While in hiding he managed to write several influential works, including the widely read classic “The Life of Saint Anthony.” He remained firm and enjoyed some years of freedom in which he spread the Catholic faith in various meetings he restored many to unity. The Emperor again proved hostile and for the fifth time he was forced into exile. However, having become popular among the people,, the Bishop was allowed by the emperor to return to his Episcopal See so that in the last years of his life he was able to perform effectively his services without hindrance.
As we reflect on this saint’s example of fidelity to the Church we are encouraged to follow his example of commitment to our Lord’s teaching as mediated in his Catholic Ecclesia. As we honor him today with gratitude for his life of firm witness may his intercession obtain for each of us the grace to follow his example to the end.