Let us come before the Lord, giving thanks.
Year: C(II). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: Green.
St Cyril of Alexandria (370 - 444)
Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.
In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.
The resulting battle was as unedifying as most of the early fights that defined the shape of Christianity, because both sides were concerned to defend something that they saw as being of infinite and eternal importance. If it had been a question of power politics, of who got what post and what revenues, the matter could have been settled quietly – but this was not about power, it was important, and the victory was more important than the methods. Seen from fifteen centuries later, the proceedings seem melodramatic and absurd: Cyril arriving at the Council of Ephesus accompanied by fifty bishops wielding baseball bats (or the fifth-century equivalent); the Emperor, burdened with a sister who supported Cyril and a wife who supported Nestorius; the ratification of the contradictory decrees of both the council that supported Cyril and the council that supported Nestorius; the imprisonment of both bishops; the bribery...
To revere Cyril of Alexandria is not to approve the methods he used: he fought according to the conventions of the time, and with its weapons. But he never sought to destroy Nestorius or any of his opponents, only to win the day for the truth of salvation: would that controversies today were fought with such pure motives.
After the fireworks of the Council, Cyril was moderate and conciliatory, and sought to reconcile to the Church any Nestorians who were willing to engage in dialogue. It is largely through his efforts that we can celebrate (even if we still fail to understand completely) the two natures of Christ, and that we can address Mary as “Mother of God”. It is as a theologian rather than as a politician that Cyril is honoured.
So let us give thanks that Cyril lived, and let us enjoy the fruits of his achievement; but although we ought all to share his pure zeal for the truth, let us not hurry to imitate his more vigorous methods!
Other saints: St John Southworth (1592? - 1654)
Liverpool, Salford, Westminster
John Southworth is normally included with the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and only in a handful of English dioceses is his feast kept separately, on the anniversary of his execution. But if he was worth canonizing, he is worth knowing; for saints are not canonized to make up an arbitrary quantity.
John Southworth was the only English martyr to suffer under a dictatorship. The English Civil War ended; the King was executed; the Elizabethan Prayer-Book outlawed; freedom of conscience proclaimed. But Catholics, who had been accused of plotting against the King, were still persecuted when there was no King; they had been fined for refusing to accept the Prayer-Book, and they were still persecuted when there was no Prayer-Book; all they asked was freedom of conscience for themselves and their countrymen, and freedom of conscience was given to everyone but them. Priests had to come and go, in secret, in fear of betrayal and death, as they had had to do for more than a generation.
John Southworth was ordained priest at the English College at Douai in 1618. After returning to England he was arrested in Lancashire in 1627 and condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment; in 1630 he was handed over, with several other priests, to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad. Whether he actually went or not seems uncertain, but he was certainly in England in 1637, when Westminster was devastated by the plague. He was seen visiting an infected house, and since there could be only one reason for anyone to visit the sick under such dangerous circumstances, he was arrested and charged with being a priest. On that occasion the authorities quietly set him free and he disappeared underground once more; but such clemency enraged the Puritans, and, seventeen years later, in 1654, when they were in power, they had their revenge.
At his trial, it was open to John Southworth to plead Not Guilty to the criminal and capital charge of being a priest – most of the missionaries did, to cause as much trouble as possible to the persecutors. But Southworth did not. If he had pleaded Not Guilty, the court might have acquitted him; as it was, the judge wept as he passed sentence. He would have saved his life, but he would have been denied the glory of solidarity with all the other English martyrs.
The body of John Southworth was bought from the executioner by the Spanish Ambassador, who returned it to Douai for burial. At the time of the French Revolution he was re-buried in an unmarked grave for protection. The grave was rediscovered in 1927 and the body returned to England – the only complete remains of any of the English martyrs. Upon Southworth’s beatification in 1929, his relics were enshrined in London’s Catholic cathedral in Westminster.
Although the penal laws remained in force, perhaps the sight of such an obviously innocent man being cruelly killed discouraged their application; for it was 24 years before the next priest was martyred. And no doubt his prayers have helped to win the temporary liberty of conscience that England now enjoys, imperfect and threatened though it is.
May the prayers of all martyrs, everywhere, win true liberty for us all.
Other saints: Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Maitland-Newcastle, Wilcannia-Forbes, Hallam, Leeds, Middlesbrough
One of the most popular representations of Our Lady is the picture of Our Mother (or Our Lady) of Perpetual Succour. The icon shows the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus; with a blue mantle representing her perpetual virginity; and with a cloaked veil representing her modesty. On the left side is the Archangel Michael; on the right side is the Archangel Gabriel. The star on Mary’s forehead signifies her title as Star of the Sea.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, this picture was brought from Crete to Rome; it was in the possession of a merchant from Crete, who appears to have stolen it; it is reputed to have hung in his home for some years. In 1499, during the pontificate of Alexander VI, it was placed in the church of San Matteo in the via Merulana, where it was venerated for some three hundred years. In the aftermath of the French revolution the church was destroyed and the whereabouts of the picture were unknown. It was providentially rediscovered in 1865. Pius IX restored it to public veneration in the church of St Alphonsus Liguori in Rome.
When the new diocese of Leeds was created in December 1878, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was declared principal patroness of the Diocese. In 2010 the title was changed to Our Lady of Unfailing Help.
The Diocese of Hallam was formed on 30 May 1980 by the division of the Dioceses of Leeds and Nottingham and consists of South Yorkshire, parts of the High Peak and the Chesterfield Districts of Derbyshire and the District of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is also patroness of other dioceses around the world.
Other saints: Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877 - 1949)
He was born in 1877 in the village of Dobromirka in the Austro-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia. He was ordained a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Lemberg (later Lwów and currently Lviv) in 1905. He was consecrated as the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for Canada in 1912.
He returned to Eastern Galicia in 1927 and became Vicar-General of the Metropolitan Curia in Lwów. After the Second World War Britain and America gave Eastern Galicia to the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities decided to put the Ukrainian Catholic Church under their own authority and separate it from Rome, and when he resisted, Budka was imprisoned, along with other bishops, on 11 April 1945 and was worked to death in a labour camp in Kazakhstan, where he died on 28 September 1949.
He was beatified as a martyr on 27 June 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Other saints: Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky (1903 - 1973)
He was born on 1 June 1903 in Stanislav in Eastern Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town was later Stanisławów in Poland, then Ivano-Frankovsk in the Ukrainian SSR, and is currently Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine). He entered the seminary in Lwów (currently Lviv) in 1920 and was ordained priest in 1925. He became abbot of the monastery at Ternopil. He was therefore arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1945 and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years’ hard labour.
He returned to Lviv in 1955 and was ordained bishop in 1963. He was arrested once more in 1969, imprisoned for three years and then exiled to Canada in 1972. He died in Winnipeg on 30 June 1973. He was beatified in 2001.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
Liturgical colour: green
The theological virtue of hope is symbolized by the colour green, just as the burning fire of love is symbolized by red. Green is the colour of growing things, and hope, like them, is always new and always fresh. Liturgically, green is the colour of Ordinary Time, the orderly sequence of weeks through the year, a season in which we are being neither single-mindedly penitent (in purple) nor overwhelmingly joyful (in white).
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Romans 13:8,10 ©|
Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.
|Noon reading (Sext)||James 1:19-20,26 ©|
Be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper; God’s righteousness is never served by man’s anger. Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion.
|Afternoon reading (None)||1 Peter 1:17,18,19 ©|
You must be scrupulously careful as long as you are living away from your home. Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ.