St Cyril of Alexandria

(in northern Egypt) Doctor of the Church (entered heaven in 444)

Dear Al,

I think your frustration may be due to a subtle form of intemperance.  It’s possible, you know, to be greedy in regards to money, or things, or honors, but it’s also possible to be greedy in regards to knowledge.  I can’t help wondering if your rather frantic search for better books to help you with your daily meditation is leading you down such a path.  Your personal prayer time isn’t supposed to be, primarily, for studying; it’s for conversation with the Lord.  It could be that the devil has you looking with inordinate frenzy to stimulate your intellectual curiosity instead of calmly, humbly seeking to hear what the Lord has to tell you.  If that is the case, today’s saint has the antidote.

Cyril became bishop of one of the most important cities of the ancient world – Alexandria, Egypt.  Founded in the fourth century BC by Alexander the Great (Alexander loved naming cities after himself), it had quickly become an intellectual and economic powerhouse of Mediterranean civilization.  Along with Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch, and (a bit later) Constantinople, it was one of the great Patriarchates of the early Church.  The bishop of Alexandria was a Big Dog, so to speak, and had a lot of pull.  Cyril used that pull to defend Christian truth against one of its most vicious attackers: Nestorianism.  Nestorius was a benighted monk-priest who became bishop of Constantinople.  Unfortunately, he began touting the idea that Jesus Christ was really two separate persons: Jesus the human being, whose human nature was inhabited by Christ the Son of God, like someone inhabits a house, or a god makes himself present in a temple.  Of course, if that teaching were true, then the whole edifice of Christian doctrine (the incarnation, Mary’s divine motherhood, the atonement, the redemption, etc.) would collapse like a sand castle at high tide.  Cyril challenged Nestorius, contacted the Pope, and presided over a Church Council (in Ephesus in 431) in order to root out the insidious doctrine.  He ended up being thrown into prison for a time, but was eventually vindicated, and the heresy was defeated.

This heroic battle was fought over the most amazing fact in the history of the world: the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, for the sake of our salvation, became a man.  He walked among us, spoke our language, lived as we live.  You and I weren’t residents of Palestine while he was gracing its dusty roads with his divine feet, but we are residents of a world in which that presence remains among us, both in the Eucharist and in the Gospels.

You see, the Gospels are not normal books.  Every word, every scene, every encounter recorded there carries with it a certain vestige of the Incarnation.  It’s as if Christ himself were still living through those happenings that we read in the Gospels every time we read them with eyes of faith, still saying those words and teaching those doctrines, and not just generically, but with a special attention – a special message – for whomever happens to be reading them.  Those texts share in the power of the Incarnation; they are God’s Word dwelling among us, in a unique way.

So growing closer to Christ isn’t just a matter of studying theology and exegesis and biblical archeology, though such disciplines are helpful and perhaps even necessary.  It’s a matter of entering into personal contact with the Lord through the Word of God, of opening your heart and mind to hear what he has to tell YOU TODAY.  Maybe it will be a new insight, maybe it will be a reminder of something you already know and aren’t living out, maybe it will be a deeper grasp of a familiar truth…

So I don’t think you need to search so frantically for better meditation books.  Use the Gospels.  Use the saints’ commentaries on the Gospels, or other good spiritual commentaries.  Let our Lord speak to you through the ever ancient and ever new words of Scripture.  Read them, consider them, mull them over (this is what the monks call “lectio divina”, divine reading).  I can guarantee that you will find plenty of food for thought, and, more importantly, for your soul.

Your loving uncle,


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