Sermon for the Feast of Saint Athanasius
Transcription of Sermon
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Allelujah.
The Lord be with you.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Jesus said to the Twelve: ‘You will be hated by all because of my name; but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. No disciple is above his teacher, and no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like the teacher and the slave that he become like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household?
The Gospel of the Lord.
Today we celebrate the great Doctor of the Church and Bishop, St. Athanasius. He was born at the end of the third century, in Alexandria, Egypt, and, from an early age showed lots of great intellectual prowess and was ordained a priest and eventually accompanied his bishop to the Council of Nicaea. And then himself became Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt.
This was at a very difficult time in the history of the Church because of the heresy of Arianism. Arianism was a heresy promoted by a heretic called Arius who denied the divinity of Christ. And this heresy was co-opted by kings and emperors, governors, politicians of many sorts, not because they had done any theological study, or were at odds with the teaching of the Church, but rather because, in the interests of their own grasping at earthly power, they thought that by weakening the Church they would be in a better situation. By causing confusion, theological confusion, and dividing the clergy and the bishops on doctrinal matters, that the State would have that much more power.
We think of how recently in the present regime in our country, the FBI has been used to spy on the Catholic Church, on certain churches, certain parishes, not just of the Latin Mass, apparently. And so, we see something similar how those who see the State as a God often find themselves at odds with the Catholic Church, ultimately with Christ Himself.
St. Athanasius was a fervent, ardent, very intelligent defender of the purity of Catholic teaching as it came from Christ, orthodoxy, and his defenses for the divinity of Christ are brilliant. Gentle academics today would probably bristle at the tone of some of his writings because they would call it dogmatic, unyielding. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have any problem promoting their own narratives, their own theories. And anybody, such as global warming, evolution, vaccine teachings, and string theory, and other unprovable dogmas, that if you deviate from these things, you will lose your position in academia. And how much more important is it to believe the truth that has come to us through Jesus Christ?
Much more than these unprovable worldly theories that ultimately do not determine our eternal life. Saint Athanasius was often alone in his defense of the truth of Christ’s divinity. He suffered terribly. He was exiled five times for a total of 17 years, being taken down as bishop and sent to France. He spent 17 years in exile and suffering and there was one moment of peace that lasted 10 years in his life, in which he wasn’t persecuted. And that was the time of peace for him when he was able to write the brilliant writings that we have of him today.
Our prayer is that our bishops be like him: Fervent defenders of the truth of Catholic teaching and clear teaching in condemning those things that our regime foists upon us that are to our detriment.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger