Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Complexity of simplicity!

Today's holy guy's story is a bit long, and having cut it, I hope I still did him honor, for he is an very important Doctor of the Church. And in case it wasn't clear to you what makes a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, hopefully, his shortened bio will help you get it!

St. Athanasius
Feast: May 2

Feast Day:May 2
295 at Alexandria, Egypt
Died:2 May 373 at Alexandria, Egypt
Major Shrine:Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt

San Zaccaria, Venice, Italy

St. Athanasius, known as the "champion of orthodoxy," was born about the year 297, in Alexandria. He received an excellent education, not only in Christian doctrine, but also in Greek literature and philosophy, rhetoric, and jurisprudence. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly,and developed a good knowledge of Theology. In his time, there was a great divide in the Church between the Orthodoxy and theologians. Many Doctrinal issues were dividing the Church, and agreement seemed out of reach. Some, like Arius were teaching that Jesus, though more than man, was not eternal God, that he was created in time by the Eternal Father, and could therefore be described only figuratively as the Son of God. The patriarch at the time demanded a written statement of these doctrines.

Athanasius, as the patriarch's secretary, took a prominent part in this great Church struggle.We know that he was present, as an attendant on Alexander, at the famous Council of Nicaea (where the Nicean Creed was put together. The Creed states what the Universal Church  believes and is still recited at Mass every Sunday), and he along with many other Bishops worked hard to formulate a Creed that all parties could agree on. He would be the  successor of Constantine, and would spend much of his life arguing for, and defending the faith against heresies -i.e. any set of beliefs that did not recognize the trinity, or the fully divine and human nature of Jesus-.


 Faith is not complicated. We are. We are the ones that argue and quibble over theories and theologies for centuries in our efforts to understand more clearly who or what God is. As we saw with St Athanasius, this is an important task and we need to embrace it as part of our faith tradition. It helps unite our thinking on the complex subject of God's nature and to turn us into a stronger community of faith. Nonetheless, I feel it would be wrong to dedicate one's life's work to this task and to nothing else. For me, the more I embrace the mysterious and the unknown in my faith, the more I 'feel' God's presence in my life, and the more I realize how in fact, deeply simple our faith can be, if we allow it. Faith does involve understanding, but it doesn't have to depend on it. For some people in our world, there is a need to understand before they believe in ideas or things. For many people people of faith, the opposite is true:  They know that understanding is conditional upon their act of faith. I would say, the more we believe, the more we understand. The more we try to rationalize, and explain faith, the further we get from the truth. It's a paradox, and a powerful one too, because most people of faith are very educated rational people. But they should also understand -they don't always!- that their faith does not rely only on this reason, but on accepting the mystery for what it is.

 We see how some members of  early Church struggled with accepting the mystery that had unfolded before them. They had all heard of the resurrection of Jesus and of his teachings, and many chose to follow the early Christians because they believed in Jesus' message and in his divine character. And yet, as we see in today's first reading, debate raged over who could be allowed to join this community and what would be expected of them. For many of the Jewish members of this fledgling  community, it (rightfully) seemed unfair to allow non Jews with different standards and practices to join their ranks. In their minds, there was no reason one could not remain Jewish and follow Jesus, and they expected all the new converts to adopt Jewish practices. But the disciples understood things differently. They understood that God was working in the Gentiles as much as he was in the Jews. This debate would be complicated and was probably not resolved overnight.

 But it's Jesus' words that bring us to the simplicity of our faith:

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love."

 Love, eternal, is being offered, our response to it needs to be active, not passive. We can not simply continue our old practices, change nothing in how we live our life,  and then proclaim 'God loved me, therefore I'm saved'. We need to receive the love abide in that love and let it change us. It's hard to do, but the instruction is simple. Abide in that love.  Fair enough you do I do that?

"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love."

 Fair enough (you say again). What are those commandments? Well, we've seen them a lot in recent weeks, but it boils down to one simple theme. Love. Not just, love your neighbhor, love your family, your spouse and kids.  LOVE ALL. And let that love guide all that you do -we go back to the first instruction!-.  This is that new song the Psalm asks us to proclaim and to sing. No, love is not new. It's been around since the dawn of time. But love of strangers, of enemies, of foreigners and of the seems no one else in History had spoken so openly about this.  So in the end, It's not rocket science, and is in fact very simple. And yet, we struggle with it, because it is revolutionary.. It's hard to do.  That's why we depend on God's grace. That's why we need the work of the spirit  in us.
 As Pope Francis recently said, we can approach this very simply: One good deed for another person a day. If everyone consciously did that, how different our world would be.

Acts 15: 7 - 21

7And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us;
9and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.
10Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
11But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
12And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brethren, listen to me.
14Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
15And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written,
16`After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up,
17that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
18says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.'
19Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
20but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.
21For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.

Psalms 96: 1 - 3, 10

1O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!2Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.3Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!10Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns! Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity."

John 15: 9 - 11

9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.
10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.


  1. this title was startling because I wrote one a couple of months ago called complicated simplicity
    (of course it was nothing like this)
    great post

  2. I think it's just a statement of how universal certain themes are!! Thanks for your support Melanie. I'll have to check out your blog!!