St John I

Pope (entered heaven on this day in 526)

Dear Jack,

I have been praying for you daily.  I am glad to hear that everything is set for your entry into the seminary – sometimes the Devil makes a last ditch effort to dissuade young men who have heard the call from following through on their decisions.  It’s nice to know that your courage has thus far frustrated his diabolical efforts.  But watch out just the same; Satan is very subtle and very creative (he has a lot of experience).

I think you are ready for seminary life, but I also think I owe you one small piece of avuncular advice: don’t expect roses without thorns.  You will find joy on the path of predilection that God has so graciously called you to follow, but your joy will not exclude the cross.  Remember, you are following in Christ’s footsteps, and they lead up a narrow and steep road.

Today’s saint is a good example.  John was an old man, and feeble, and worn out by the time he was elected the 53rd Pope.  But he took up the responsibility with as much energy as he could muster.  Unfortunately for him, the Arian heresy was rampant at the time.  (Arians denied the divinity of Christ, among other things.)  The heresy had caused a huge rift among Christians throughout the former Roman Empire.  In fact, the ruler of Italy at the time, King Theodoric the Ostragoth, was an Arian himself.

At first Theodoric lived in peace with the good and holy Pope John.  But later the King became a bit neurotic, and paranoid.  He forced the Pope to lead a delegation to the Byzantine Emperor (Justin was his name) in Constantinople in order to demand more freedom for Arian churches back in Italy.  Pope John was received with grandeur and joy by Emperor and people alike.  He even participated in an elaborate and beautiful ceremony where he crowned the Emperor.  It was a moment of deep communion between the Western and Eastern Churches.

Pope John was able to win some concessions from Justin, and so from Theodoric’s perspective the delegation should have been considered a success.  But it wasn’t.  The Ostrogothic King suspected John of conspiracy.  He thought the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor were plotting a Byzantine take-over of Italy and of what was left of the Western Roman Empire.  So Theodoric had Pope John arrested as soon as he returned from Constantinople and set foot on Italian soil.  He threw him into a prison in the eastern Italian city of Ravenna (the paranoid King had earlier imprisoned and executed the Pope’s confidant, St Boetius).  There the aged and frail Pope was left to die a slow and painful death from neglect and hunger.

Please don’t think my calling to mind this historical tidbit means I am wishing you a miserable time in the seminary and in the priesthood – not at all.  I just want to make sure you don’t start off on this adventure with the wrong expectations.  Heaven, after all, is in heaven, not here on earth.

Your loving uncle,


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