Friday, October 6, 2023
Feast of Saint Bruno
His father died soon after his birth. He was bitten by a snake as a boy. As a young man he permanently damaged his health after practicing an austere form of ascetism as a hermit. Despite all that – or, perhaps, because of all that – he went on to become one of the most celebrated and eloquent preachers in the history of Christianity, so much so that his name in Greek means “golden-mouthed”.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to contemplate the homily as a constituent part of Sunday Mass, this week On the Road to Emmaus I want to introduce you to Saint John Chrysostom, the patron saint of preachers.
During my student days at the Pontifical North American in Rome I would often visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in order to pray and also to bathe in the beauty of the Renaissance architecture. At the very farthest point of the church’s nave you will find the Altar of the Chair of Peter. The chair in question is held aloft by four enormous bronze statues, each depicted a great Doctor of the Church. That’s the Church’s superstar list of the greatest Christian thinkers, preachers and teachers in history. Hence, if you like, this quartet of bronze saints form part of an exclusive “homily hall of fame”. From the western church there is Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine who are both wearing mitres. From the eastern church there is Saint Athanasius and Saint John Chrysostom.
Saint John was born in the middle of the 4th century in the city of Antioch which is now in modern day Turkey. He was raised by his mother – who may have been a Christian – and baptized in his twenties. Already a young man of great learning, he quickly embraced a life of extreme ascetism. Ordination to the deaconate and priesthood soon followed and then, in the fall of 397, John was appointed Archbishop of Constantinople. By that time, the Roman Empire had been divided into two administrative halves: west and east. The heart of the eastern Roman Empire was the city of Constantinople. Hence, there were few more significant pulpits from which to preach to the late Roman world and, by the grace of God, Saint John didn’t disappoint. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 says this:
“The success of Chrysostom's preaching is chiefly due to his great natural facility of speech, which was extraordinary even to Greeks, to the abundance of his thoughts as well as the popular way of presenting and illustrating them, and, last but not least, the whole-hearted earnestness and conviction with which he delivered the message which he felt had been given to him.”
The power of his eloquence is such that it echoes unto this day. In fact, his Paschal homily is still preached every Easter Sunday in those Eastern Rite Churches that are in communion with Rome. The text has been described by some as the greatest Easter homily ever written. In it, Saint John says this of Christ’s resurrection:
“Hell grasped a corpse, and met God. Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven. Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory?”
Hence my challenge to you for this week: Read or listen to the Paschal homily of John Chrysostom and prayerfully revel in the words of this great golden mouthed saint. Below is a short film featuring one of our fellow pilgrims On the Road to Emmaus who has being doing just that every Easter. Enjoy. The text of the homily is below too.
Assuring you of my prayers, I am sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing
The Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.