St Athanasius

Bishop and Doctor, (entered heaven this day in 373)

Dear Hans,

Your commitment to active evangelization is laudable.  Clearly, your spring retreat has had a positive effect.  Every moment invested in spreading and defending the faith is a deposit in the bank of eternity.  And you seem to be accumulating quite a balance.  Nevertheless, I detect a disturbing trend in your latest notes.  If I am not mistaken, as your zeal for action has increased, your zeal for study and prayer has decreased.  That, my courageous young nephew, is a recipe for disaster.  You need to put some order back in your life.  Maybe a glance at today’s saint can rescue you.

Athanasius received the best education the ancient world had to offer.  He grew up in the cosmopolitan center of Alexandria, Egypt, the New York City of the ancient Mesopotamian world.  He mastered Greek literature and philosophy, rhetoric, jurisprudence and Christian doctrine, and though he didn’t know it at the time, he was going to need every last bit of that education.

He became secretary to the great bishop of Alexandria at the time of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea.  That’s when the Church condemned the insidious errors of the Egyptian priest, Arius, who claimed that Christ was not truly God.  Soon thereafter, but still before he turned thirty, Athanasius himself became bishop of that all-important See (“see” is another name for the seat of episcopal or papal authority).

For many reasons, Arianism continued to grow and spread.  It infected all of Christendom, in fact, and threatened to shatter the unity of the Church.  St Athanasius was the staunchest opponent of the heretics and the sturdiest defender of the Catholic faith throughout the long battle.  His enemies knew what a critical player he was, and therefore constantly schemed to have him eliminated.  They slandered and calumniated him, put him on false trial, stirred up more than one emperor against him, cajoled him, threatened him… But in the end, Athanasius kept the faith intact, even though he was banished five separate times and spent over 17 years in exile.

In one of the Church’s most dire hours, Athanasius saved the day.  How was he able to do it?  Two reasons: first, God had given him the opportunity to receive a top-notch education and he had taken full advantage of it, i.e. he had formed himself well during his youth, and thus he was able to sift through the subtle half-truths argued by his enemies without being deceived or even confused.  Second, he knew how to pray.  Much of his exile was spent hiding with the monks in the Egyptian deserts, where he befriended St Anthony the Abbot, as well as other experts in prayer.

Your apostolic action is important, but right now God also needs you to be responsible in your studies – that’s an essential part of his will for a college student.  And if you aren’t united to the vine by prayer, all your activities will end up sterile – a branch cut off from the vine can’t bear any fruit.  If you can keep these things in order, I have no doubt that you too will do great things for the Kingdom, just like St Athanasius.

Yours always,

Uncle Eddy

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