St Armogastes

(entered heaven sometime after 460)

Dear Ashley,

I don’t like that word “discernment”.  It sounds too careful, too exact, too technical.  A vocation is an invitation, person to person, from God to you.  You respond to it.  If you hear it and you’re not sure how to respond, you get to know him better, find out what the invitation involves, why he sent it… Then you respond.  If that’s what you mean by “discernment”, I’m all for it.  But if you mean trying work out some kind of geometric proof that offers a crystal-clear and undeniably logical conclusion, you’re way off base.  Sorry to be so blunt, but somebody has to tell you the truth.

And another thing, contrary to popular opinion, the biggest obstacle to effective discernment is an unacknowledged reluctance to follow God’s will.  Pride and laziness make us afraid of trusting God; that fear causes serious interference in identifying God’s will.  But don’t worry, there is hope.  Today’s saint, for example, gives an inspiring example of Christian courage.

Armogastes was Theodoric’s personal servant.  Theodoric was King Genseric’s son.  You remember King Genseric, don’t you?  He was the Vandal King who swept like a tornado through the Roman Empire of the West in the fifth century, inducing its demise.  He conquered Spain, North Africa, and Italy, invading and looting the Eternal City of Rome itself.  He made Europe quake in its boots.  A fearful, wrathful, powerful and indomitable conqueror.  Even the saints of his day considered him a sign that the end times had arrived.

He had started out as a Christian, but as he spread his rule, he became enamored of history’s most damaging heresy: Arianism (which denied the divinity of Christ).  It’s possible that Arianism attracted him because it gave him a good excuse to overrun Christian lands.  In any case, he abandoned the Catholic faith, embraced the heresy, and demanded that all his family and household do the same.  That’s where today’s saint comes in.

As his son and likely successor to the throne, Theodoric submitted to his father’s demand.  Genseric demanded that his son’s servants also submit.  Armogastes had a lot to gain from maintaining his master’s favor – nothing less than an highly influential and extremely comfortable place in an empire, in fact.  You can imagine his inner turmoil when the king demanded that he embrace Arianism (turmoil exacerbated by the fact that this heresy had even been embraced by almost half of the Church’s bishops!).  But the young man, knowing that his future and maybe even his life, was at stake, bravely put both at risk and professed his fidelity to Christ and his true Church.  He was tortured; he held strong.  He was enslaved and imprisoned; he stayed faithful.  He was sent to work in the mines; no matter.  Finally, he was sent into the hills where he finished off his life as a poor cow-herd.  (Genseric refused to have him killed for fear that he would be hailed as a martyr.)

That’s courage, my dear niece.  That’s love.  That’s holiness.  That’s what true discernment is really all about: hearing God’s call and overcoming every fear and obstacle to heed it.  Count on my prayers.

Your loving uncle,


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