Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Holy Troublemaker

Today's feast is one which should warm the hearts of all our priest-preachers - the memorial of the great St John Chrysostom, he of the "golden mouth" who inspired the people and was a thorn in the side of a corrupt and sinful Imperial Court.  He was a particular scourge for the haughty Empress Eudoxia. 

St John was a brilliant man, he could have had a shining career in the service of the empire, but he chose to become a priest, and as such gained renown for his holiness and his preaching. He was extremely well educated and so his sermons were brilliant.  He did, however, have a bee in his bonnet: he saw, correctly, that Christians were not living as well as they should.  The Roman persecutions had ended a generation before and it seemed Catholics had become too comfortable, as tends to happen when peace is restored.  When he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 398 he had the position to promote genuine reform, and he had great success.  The ordinary people loved him and came to hear his sermons.  Many of them changed their lives and began to live the Gospel. 

However, when a bishop or priest preaches reform, some people are not happy, and when the secular authorities are nominally Catholic and living scandalous lives, then problems soon emerge. So too with St John: the Imperial Court was appalled at his preaching - it felt the sting of his tongue as he railed against the vices which were commonplace in the palaces.  The empress was particularly offended both by the sermons and John's lifestyle - he was very ascetic and not inclined to come to her extravagant banquets - indeed he condemned them and said they were a waste while people were poor and starving.  His work on behalf of the poor showed her up, and so she decided to get rid of him. 

In a manner we are all familiar with, Eudoxia summoned the Council of Bishops and had John deposed as Patriarch in 403 and sent him in to exile.  As he left the city he was surrounded by the people in tears. Their sorrow soon turned to anger and the empress, as the one blame, got the brunt of it.  A devastating earthquake also terrified her and she saw it as an expression of God's anger with her for exiling the holy Patriarch: and so she called John back to his See: the people were delighted.

If Euxodia thought John would change, she was wrong: he continued his programme of reform.  In 404 following a wild party in which a silver statue of the empress was unveiled, and other extravagant banquets, John again criticised the hedonism.  Indignant, Eudoxia had him exiled, and this time he would not return.  He died three years later as a vengeful empress was attempting to drive him even further from his people and his See.  In 438 he finally returned, as a canonised Saint, when his relics were translated from the place of his death, Comene, to Constantinople.

The story of St John is a timely one.  We too have rulers who are nominally Christian, yet live lives that do not conform to the Gospel and run their countries in a manner which is repugnant to the Christian faith: some of them are actually putting measures in place to persecute Christians for adherence to Christ's teaching, as we see in the push for gay marriage in the UK and abortion in Ireland.   Yet we have these same rulers rubbing shoulders with the Pope or handing out John Paul II Awards.  Perhaps we need a John Chrysostom to point out the inconsistencies to these leaders.

St John preaching against the proud Empress Eudoxia.

In other news, I ask your prayers for the members of the Fraternity in England who will be making their first pilgrimage to Walsingham as the Fraternity.  The pilgrimage takes place on Saturday and Sunday, one of the highlights being Mass in the Slipper Chapel on Sunday morning at 9am.   I hope this will become an annual event for the Fraternity in England.

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