Saints Pontian and Hippolytus and Our Call to Duty

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Pontian, who was the lawfully elected successor pope to St. Callistus during the early 3rd century. St. Pontian was considered a criminal by the emperor Maximinius and banished to the silver mines in Sardinia – an exile which meant certain death. We also celebrate today a saint by the name of Hippolytus, who was a priest in the Church of Rome at this same moment in time.

Saint Hippolytus is recognized because of his brilliance and profound scholarship. He is considered to be one of the finest theologians of the 3rd century, and is the source of the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer recited at Mass. Hippolytus’ most important work is a treatise known as The Apostolic Tradition; and scholars such as Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, (at http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com) tell us that it provides “an enlightening and extensive glimpse into the liturgical and devotional life of Roman Christians around the year 200.” The statue found below is of Roman origin, found in the mid 16th century. It has the name Hippolytus carved into it as well as references to works of other Apostolic Fathers. The image is presented through the courtesy of Dr. D’Ambrosio.

Controversy, however, erupted when St. Callistus, was elected to the papacy. St. Hippolytus considered Callistus to be a liberal since Callistus extended absolution to new converts who had committed mortal sins such as adultery and murder. Hippolytus contested the election, violently disagreed when Callistus was affirmed, and then made history by declaring himself pope, thus becoming the first anti-pope in the history of the Church!

As a result of his action he divorced himself from full communion with the Church. When Pope Callistus was martyred, in the year 222, Hippolytus began disagreeing with his successors – the last being Pope Pontian.  Hippolytus’ theological differences and self-imposed actions didn’t mean anything to the Romans for they arrested him, too, and exiled him off to Sardinia; and there, St. Hippolytus – the anti-pope met St Pontian, the true pope and lawful successor to Pope Callistus.

In the silver mines of Sardinia, Pope Pontian abdicated his office, making way for a lawful successor to be elected, and Hippolytus renounced his anti-papacy and was absolved of his sins by Pontian. Fully reconciled they died together for the faith in the year 235.

So, what does this have to do with us?!

Our Gospel today (Matt 17: 22 – 27) provides the answer, for in it our Lord and the Apostles were confronted with the arrogance of the officials who implied they were evading the local taxes.  Jesus attempts to clarify His position not only for St. Peter but for the officials as well.

Jesus is basically saying that, yes, they must pay the tax; the reason being they must not do anything to put a stumbling block in the way of people understanding His ministry and message. Again we see Christ not getting political. He is not ranting about the just or unjust qualities of the Temple tax, or Roman occupation. He is beyond that, and demands that the Apostles, as His successors, not give a bad example to the people.

This is a lesson that St. Hippolytus, for all of his brilliance never learned. He did give bad example to the Church of Rome in declaring himself an anti-pope. His dissension and attacks were not productive or helpful in a highly charged environment which constantly witnessed Roman persecution.

Yet, St. Hippolytus ultimately saw his sin, repented of it, and along with Pope St. Pontian, did his duty and defended the true faith with his life. We must always do the same, and whatever our calling or ministry may be, we must never become a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing and believing in Jesus and His Church.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved   Images of all the popes are found in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy. The custom of having a mosaic of a deceased pope put on display was started by Pope Leo the Great.

St. Peter Chrysologus’ Appeal By Christ To Be Transformed

Today is the memorial of Saint Peter Chrysologus.

Peter was born in the late 4th century in northern Italy. In 424, after serving as a deacon and priest in Emilia, he became bishop of the Italian city of Ravenna. Little reliable information about St. Peter’s life survives, except that he successfully drove heresy and the remnants of Roman paganism from his diocese by doing two things: providing exceptional pastoral care to the people and by giving practical yet passionate sermons. St. Peter’s brief sermons were so inspiring that he was given the title “Chrysologus” which means “of golden speech.”

He was declared a Doctor of the Church in the 18th century. In order to be called a Doctor of the Church the Pope and Cardinals must agree that the individual possessed three main characteristics during his or her life: truly outstanding holiness; a depth of doctrinal insight; and a body of writings which the Church recommends to people as authentic and life giving. These three qualities contributed to Peter’s success in ministering to the people of his diocese.

Our Gospel today speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush, or the tiny yeast germ enabling the flour to rise. This theme of transformation is at the center of the story of the Incarnation. In a homily on this theme, St. Peter beautifully describes how Jesus is able, through His two natures, to touch and transform us. Christ meets us on a daily basis in prayer, and especially through the Scriptures and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

By means of these two marvelous gifts St Peter explains that we are able to identify with Jesus and be converted like the mustard seed and yeast germ, into something so much greater –  we are transformed and divinized into the life of Christ Himself. In one of his homilies, he has the Lord speaking and appealing to His people. He says,

“Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, [your Lord] I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death.

These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as an icon, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.”

May the Lord continue to raise up men and women with St. Peter Chyrsologus’ gifts to feed and care for His people.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

Image of St. Peter Chrysologus courtesy of info@crossroadsinitiative.com

 

A Sacred Image – The Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ

You are probably thinking, the poor old fellow has made a mistake in his spelling. Shouldn’t the title read “Son” of Justice?

When I made my preliminary drawing for this sacred image (it is based on the drawings and wood carvings of Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B) I desired to have an appropriate name for it.

One evening a passage from Evening Prayer in the Divine Office caught my attention. It was the final prayer and it read: “Father, yours is the morning and yours is the evening. Let the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, shine for ever in our hearts and draw us to that light where you live in radiant glory.”

Sacred image copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

That prayer really struck me; there was the title: Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.

My intent was to have the image direct the prayerful observer to meditate on the truth that Jesus Christ is the Sun, which as a result of His obedient sacrifice on the holy wood of the Cross, shines in our hearts; and through his death and resurrection redeems us of our sins and guides us back to the Father. He is the Son and the Word of the Father. He is the Light of the World. He is also the Sun of Justice, in that we as individuals will all surely have His light illumine our souls and be judged by His standards.

This sacred image is a gift for Fr. Joseph R. Upton. A wonderful and holy priest who serves as the Chaplain of the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art.

The face and garments are not  painted in the language or style of traditional iconography in an attempt to emulate the woodcarving methods of Bro. Erspamer.

I am happy to say that when you are praying in its presence it does provide comfort to the soul.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono Essay and photos – All Rights Reserved

Shaped By The Potter’s Hands

All of us struggle with the reality that the experiences of our life may harden our hearts and deafen our ears to God’s truth. We may be similar to the  disciples in this past Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24: 35-48), who were filled with anxiety – until – – the moment “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Jesus shows them the nail wounds in His hands and feet. He explains to them that the Scriptures teach that we cannot have glory and honor without the willingness to suffer and die to our own sinful will and perceptions.

He teaches them that they need to see the connection between His passion and death with His resurrection. He explains this so that they can understand what He is truly about, and that their mission, “as witnesses to these things” is to go out and preach the truth of His words and resurrection. Jesus explains, if they cooperate with and are open to His teaching, then they will realize that life’s events will shape them into what they are truly meant to be and the Father’s plan will end in glory for them, too.

We can relate the shaping and opening of the disciples’ minds to the creation of a beautiful piece of pottery or a favorite coffee mug or tea cup that we may own. That cup started out as a simple lump of clay. Its creator – the artist – put it on a potter’s wheel, moistened his or her hands, and began to firmly and patiently mold the lump of clay into a cup.

The cup had to be put into a kiln and heated – then taken out, allowed to cool – painted – put back into the kiln again – and then, at the right moment – taken out of the heat and allowed to cool – to eventually be used for the purpose it was created.

The cup – a few days or weeks before – was just a soggy lump of clay – all closed in on itself; but now, after all the pounding, shaping, heat, and stress of its experience – it is open to serve the purpose intended for it by its creator – its ceramic arms now open to embrace and hold what it was intended to receive – and thus, be a useful instrument – a good and faithful servant.

This analogy helps to explain a thread running through the fabric of Holy Scripture, a thread, Jesus probably repeated to His disciples which is from the prophet Jeremiah, it says “As clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…” (Jer.18.6);

Our creator, God the Father – has spoken to us through His Son and laid His potter’s hands on us – His chosen vessels. We are all lumps of clay. We have all been pounded and shaped on the wheel of life.

We are a people who have been put into the furnace of life’s circumstances, suffered through sickness or various types of torments and troubles, and who sometimes find ourselves hanging on by a mere thread, but with Jesus’ help – in the end – even though we have suffered much – we are made stronger in our faith – and are viewed as beautiful in the eyes of God because we have not given up.  The clay of our life has been moistened by God’s Holy Scriptures and Sacraments – and because we have patiently kept the faith – we have not cracked in the heat of the kiln of life.

Like the disciples in today’s Gospel let us be willing during this Easter season, to have our hearts and minds opened, shaped, and molded through the patient and loving hands of Our Lord in His Words and Sacraments. If we allow Him to do this, even though we have experienced the wheel of life and the kiln of adversity, we will emerge as beautiful and faithful servants of our Lord.

Special thanks to http://blog.lablanchepoterie.com/ for providing the image of the potter cutting the cup away from its base.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Our Living Hope: The Tomb Cannot Hold Us

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants  – we are all an Easter people. For two thousand years we have – through faith in historical documents and human witness – been invited to believe in a divine act of revelation: the Easter resurrection of our Lord and Savior; for it is in that act that our God shows us who He truly is.

We believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical and spiritual fact; and that the resurrection of Jesus not only explains the truth of His promises but it demonstrates what has been promised to us.

On the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John saw that the stone had been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb; and as they looked in  – they came face to face with their eternal destiny. Since no stone could have stopped the resurrected Jesus, it was pushed away not to let Jesus out – but to let them – and us – in.

Like Mary, Peter, and John, and all the others, we come to realize that we are an Easter people – which means that we are an eternal people – members, through our holy baptism, of the family of the eternal high God. The tomb could never hold the resurrected Jesus, and – as a people of faith – it cannot hold us.

St. Paul tells us in his epistle to the Hebrews that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (11: 1)

But what is hope? Hope is trust based on a divine promise. We have hope because we trust the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. We trust in His promises to us.

Our hope interacts with our faith in Him – and we are forever changed because of it. You and I are certain of our faith, because we understand and rejoice in the hope that our God does not lie – our Scriptures do not lie  – our Sacred Tradition does not lie; so as an Easter people we possess the hope that St. Peter speaks of when he says: “…we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.   (1 Peter 1:3).

As we celebrate the Easter season, let us – as our Lord tells us today – “Be not afraid”  – let us be joyful and thankful for the gift of faith and the willingness, in the face of all odds, to share our faith and joy with others.

May God grant you a joyous and creative Easter season!

The attached sacred image was painted by Fra Angelico in 1441 and is entitled “The Women at the Tomb.”       Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Holy Saturday Meditation: Something Strange Is Happening

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on the earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

…For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

…a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from  your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven… the kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

The above quotation is from an ancient homily of the Catholic Church from its earliest centuries and is found within the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church. It is taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

The first image of “The Harrowing of Hell” was painted by the Florentine painter Fra Angelico between the years 1437-46. The second image on this same subject was completed around the year 1315 by an artist of the Orthodox Church who painted this wall icon in fresco. It is presently found in the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey. The third image of the “Harrowing of Hell” is by the head of the Moscow school of icon painters from the late 15th century – the master Dionysius. This Russian Orthodox  icon was completed around 1481.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Good Friday Meditations

It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the cross.

From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world.

At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It is finished.

When we were His enemies, God reconciled us to Himself by the death of His Son.

Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb chosen before the world’s foundation and revealed for your sake in these last days. It is through Him that you are believers in God, the God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory. Your faith and hope, then, are centered in God.  (1 Peter 1: 18-21)

“Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

 

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The painting, Christ’s Crucifixion, is by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660); it was completed between 1631 – 32.  All the Scriptural quotations are taken from The New American Bible (1970) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. The “Awake, O sleeper…” verse is taken from an ancient homily from the first centuries of the Church.