Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church
St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in North Africa, has been recognized by the Catholic Church for his holy life and his profound theology, and is now revered as a “Doctor of the Church.” But in his lifetime, he was regarded as a troublemaker by the Roman emperors and even some of his fellow bishops. He was persecuted and threatened; and banished from his people in Alexandria five times. He spent seventeen of forty-six years of his episcopate in exile.
Although St. Athanasius lived in the fourth century, he experienced intimidation and displacement much like the earliest disciples, whose ministries are described in the Acts of the Apostles. And like Barnabas in today’s reading from Acts, “he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord in firmness of heart” (Acts 10:23) despite all their obstacles.
In the fourth century of Athanasius, the obstacle was a heresy called Arianism, which taught that Jesus was not fully divine. There was bitter division in the Church on this issue. St. Athanasius taught that Jesus the Son of God, the Eternal Word through whom God made the world, entered the world in human form. This is the Incarnation, meaning to “take on flesh.”
St. Athanasius risked his life and his reputation to continue to preach the truth of Jesus’ Incarnation because he believed it so deeply. He challenges us to love our world because Jesus the Eternal Word entered our world in human form and shared our reality, loving it ALL. Our love for this world shows in our reverence for life on our planet: species of animals and plants that have evolved over millennia; as well as the diverse cultures, which are the result of human genius to survive and thrive in varied places around the world.
And so, we pray for courage to respond:
—when ecosystems are being destroyed and Indigenous people removed from their lands,
—when people struggle to hold on to their cultural ways of life after they are displaced by climate change, war, or persecution,
—when we fail to see the face of Jesus in someone of a different ethnicity, nationality, or religion.
We ask for the graces of loving determination, clarity of thought, and reverence for life that we celebrate today in the life of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.