St Bessarion

(entered heaven in the fourth century)

Dear Bess,

How’s life on Madison Avenue?  I was glad to hear that you roped such a prestigious summer job/internship (your talents will be shrewdly and fully exploited by those ravenous professionals, but they will also be developed by the rigorous work), but I frowned when I heard how much money you’ll be making.  You need to be careful, my dear pecuniary-inclined niece; you have a tendency to like nice things more than they deserve to be liked. Of course, this gift of appreciating the finer things can be both a blessing and a curse. With it you can be an example of elegance and gentility in a world of vulgar immodesty; the way you dress, dine, and carry yourself can be a kind of billboard for the graciousness and loveliness of God and his Kingdom.  But you could also easily fall prey to vanity, avarice, and intemperance, spending too much money on all the “right” clothes and the “right” accessories, spending too much time with the “right” crowd, and spilling out your natural charm and intelligence on the dry sands of making the right “connections.” Clearly, Christ has an interest in evangelizing Madison Avenue just as much as Main Street, Small Town, USA – maybe even more so, since Madison Avenue has such a powerful influence over what happens on Main Street – and obviously he has put you there to take up the task (you can’t do it alone, though; your first step will need to be finding or “recruiting” some other men and women of the Kingdom), but be aware that he is sending you like a “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

You may want to keep the example of today’s saint in mind and ask him to be the “patron” of your summer.  At first, it might seem an odd choice. After all, St Bessarion retreated to the deserts of Egypt for an internship with St Anthony and St Macarius, two of the Church’s greatest recluses – so what could he have to do with the teeming throngs of Manhattan?  A lot, I think. He became a paragon of Christian charity and a powerful instrument of God’s love: for the good of poor people he constantly ran across, he performed a slew of miracles, turning salt water fresh, bringing rain in times of draught, walking across the Nile, expelling demons… Wherever he went, he brought lost and hardened souls closer to God.  And the secret to his holiness was detachment.  Instead of hoarding the good things of this world, he used them as springboards, as rungs of a ladder that led him closer and closer to the heart of the God who had created them.  Thus, he never had a fixed place of residence, but wandered barefoot, observing long periods of silence and excruciating fasts. Once he spent forty days standing in prayer amidst a hedge of brambles.  He was determined to use all earthly goods as opportunities to praise and serve God, and never let them capture his heart.

So, as you find yourself hobnobbing with the wealthy and beautiful of the world, keeping up a spiritual correspondence with St Bessarion could serve as a kind of secret weapon, a way for you to keep first things first so that you don’t end up losing them altogether.

Keep the faith, Uncle Eddy

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