Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saints Cyril and Methodius (d. 869; d. 884)

Because their father was an officer in a part of Greece inhabited by many Slavs, these two Greek brothers ultimately became missionaries, teachers and patrons of the Slavic peoples.
After a brilliant course of studies, Cyril (called Constantine until he became a monk shortly before his death) refused the governorship of a district such as his brother had accepted among the Slavic-speaking population. Cyril withdrew to a monastery where his brother Methodius had become a monk after some years in a governmental post. A decisive change in their lives occurred when the Duke of Moravia (present-day Czech Republic) asked the Eastern Emperor Michael for political independence from German rule and ecclesiastical autonomy (having their own clergy and liturgy). Cyril and Methodius undertook the missionary task. Cyril’s first work was to invent an alphabet, still used in some Eastern liturgies. His followers probably formed the Cyrillic alphabet (for example, modern Russian) from Greek capital letters. Together they translated the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy, highly irregular then. That and their free use of the vernacular in preaching led to opposition from the German clergy. The bishop refused to consecrate Slavic bishops and priests, and Cyril was forced to appeal to Rome. On the visit to Rome, he and Methodius had the joy of seeing their new liturgy approved by Pope Adrian II. Cyril, long an invalid, died in Rome 50 days after taking the monastic habit.

Methodius continued mission work for 16 more years. He was papal legate for all the Slavic peoples, consecrated a bishop and then given an ancient see (now in the Czech Republic). When much of their former territory was removed from their jurisdiction, the Bavarian bishops retaliated with a violent storm of accusation against Methodius. As a result, Emperor Louis the German exiled Methodius for three years. Pope John VIII secured his release. The Frankish clergy, still smarting, continued their accusations, and Methodius had to go to Rome to defend himself against charges of heresy and uphold his use of the Slavonic liturgy. He was again vindicated. Legend has it that in a feverish period of activity, Methodius translated the whole Bible into Slavonic in eight months. He died on Tuesday of Holy Week, surrounded by his disciples, in his cathedral church. Opposition continued after his death, and the work of the brothers in Moravia was brought to an end and their disciples scattered. But the expulsions had the beneficial effect of spreading the spiritual, liturgical and cultural work of the brothers to Bulgaria, Bohemia and southern Poland. Patrons of Moravia, and specially venerated by Catholic Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Bulgarians, Cyril and Methodius are eminently fitted to guard the long-desired unity of East and West. In 1980, Pope John Paul II named them additional co-patrons of Europe (with Benedict).
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The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (6:17, 20-26)

Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there together with a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Looking at His disciples, He said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. "

Choosing Christ
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

I do not think that the principal danger facing the Christian is, in the first instance, the outright abandonment of Christ. This of course can certainly happen — and the example of Judas shows that this can happen even to the most favoured disciple. Even with Judas, though, it appears to have happened gradually. No, the biggest danger is that of settling down to a mediocre following of our Lord. “If you wish to be perfect....,” our Lord began in his reply to the rich young man who had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. The danger is that of not seeking to be perfect in the love and service of God. All through the Gospels it is clear that our Lord expects the very best from anyone who wishes to be his disciple. But our very best requires of us a prolonged struggle and it is the prospect of this that can so easily lead us to lower our sights. We must brace ourselves for a long campaign against refusing to be generous in small duties — against venial sin, in other words. Every day the work must begin anew, and if it does not, then all our life we will remain attached to ourselves and to creatures, much more than to God. We will have a lukewarm and mediocre love for him, and it is this that can prepare the way for an abandonment of him. At the outset — indeed at the outset of every day — we ought make a choice between two standards, that of Christ, or that of the world, the flesh and the devil. The two standards are utterly different and our Lord wants a clear choice from us, not made just once but renewed daily and lived out in the little duties of everyday life. In today’s Gospel our Lord sets forth two types of persons: on the one type he pronounces a blessing, and on the other a woe. We must choose which type we shall be. Those who have chosen to be his disciples, and to endure poverty, hunger, sufferings and rejection because of their love for him, are the blessed ones. They are fortunate, and happy. Their reward will be great in heaven. But alas to those who prefer riches, worldly satisfaction, pleasure and the world’s praise to a generous following of him. Alas to them, our Lord says. Let us not be mediocre in this choice.

Now, the fact is that this is the path to happiness. One of the greatest mysteries of life for man is the question of wherein lies the path to true and deep happiness. I wonder how many people are deeply happy! Is it not the question of life? Ought not parents have as one of their principal goals helping their children to understand how true happiness is to be attained in this life, and, of course, attained in the next. But does the average parent know where this happiness is to be found? There have been so many suggestions, so many theories about happiness and how to attain it. Some think happiness is to be found in popularity, others in wealth, others in influence. But God has revealed, and the Church has explained, that we attain our fullest happiness by virtue of the grace of Christ which makes us sharers in the divine life. In the Gospels, Christ points out to his followers the way that leads to eternal happiness. It is through the living of the beatitudes, and our Gospel today (Luke 6: 17, 20-26) provides us with Luke’s presentation of them. In essence they are a brief statement of the mind, the heart and the practice of Jesus Christ, and of what it is to follow his example. Our Lord is saying, blessed will you be if you take me as your love and your model, and woe upon you if you refuse. Our true happiness will be found therein. The beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness, a desire that is of divine origin. God has placed this desire in the human heart precisely to draw man to the One who alone can fulfil it. As St Augustine wrote, “in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life. Let me seek you so that my soul may live” (Confessions 10,20). As St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “God alone satisfies” (Expos. In symb. apost.1). Our Lord’s description of the one who is truly blessed sets forth the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts. That goal is a sharing in the happiness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ his incarnate Son. This vocation is addressed to each person individually, and to the Church as a whole.

Mediocrity and half-heatedness in the following of Christ is the ever-present danger in the Christian life. If poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection were ever to come our way through no fault of our own, and most especially as a result of our choice for Jesus, Christ counts it as a great blessing. Our Lord assures us that this is the path to true happiness. Let us resolve to find our happiness in where it truly awaits us, then. Where is that? It lies in love for and union with Jesus Christ, our brother, our Saviour, and our God.

A second reflection on the Gospel of the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time C

"Then fixing His eyes on his disciples he said: 'How happy are you who are poor'..."

Poverty of spirit
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In our Gospel today our Lord utters his well-known teaching on poverty of spirit: “Blessed are you poor, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Luke 6:17.20-26). Christians are guided by Christ, but there have been non-Christians who have understood well the danger that riches pose. Mahatma Ghandi was one such. Consider, then, our Lord’s words about the poverty that can enrich, and the wealth that can impoverish. “Blessed are you who are poor,” is Christ’s dictum. Are we convinced of its truth? Many saints, resolving to follow our Lord generously, distributed their possessions to the poor. Then they embarked on their following of Christ. They regarded themselves as fortunate, for they were now poor. Christ was their wealth. Most of us are not called to follow that specific vocation, but such saints as these remind us that the poverty of spirit to which our Lord is referring is a most blessed condition of heart. Are we convinced of this, on the word of Christ? If so, in what precise way are we acting on it?

Riches bring a special danger while a degree of poverty offers an opportunity. The danger of riches consists in becoming attached to material possessions and wealth more than God. Whereas it is easier for the poor person to turn to God because God is all he has. Wealth in itself is not an evil for it ultimately comes from the hand of God. Rather it is the attitude to wealth that can make of it a danger. Nor does mere poverty make a person attached to Christ and to God. Just as with wealth, it will depend on one’s attitude. If a poor person depends on God and looks to Him above all, then his poverty will have proved to be a blessing. But a poor person can allow his poverty to embitter him, enrage him, consume him with envy, and even lead him to harm those who have wealth. It is the one who is poor in spirit, poor in his heart, lacking attachment to material and temporal things, who is blessed. This can be the poor man and it can be the rich man, but it is more difficult for the rich man because man is prone to set his heart on possessions. Whether we are well off or struggling we are called to place our hopes in God. If we are struggling, it could be a heaven-sent opportunity to depend on God. If we are rich, we must be beware for we could lose our sense of dependence on God — all the while unaware of it.

Christ is calling us to be like the poor person who depends completely on God. This is the poverty of spirit which characterized Christ himself and which he marked out as the way of his disciples, the way that leads to the Kingdom of God. All our lives we ought remember what our Lord says to us: “ Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

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