St Athanasius

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

Dear Ethel,

Right now, your prayer life is more important than every other duty except one: your studies.  Right now, God needs you to be the best student you can be, because later on, you will need what you learn now to succeed in your life’s mission.  It’s all part of God’s Providence, you know.

Take today’s saint as an example.  Athanasius received the best education the ancient world had to offer.  He grew up in the cosmopolitan center of Alexandria, Egypt, the New York 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 obliterate the unity of the Church. St Athanasius was the staunchest opponent of the heretics and the sturdiest defender of the Catholic faith throughout the 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… In the end, Athanasius kept the faith intact, even though he was banished 5 separate times and spent over 17 years in exile.  In the Church’s most dire hour, 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; 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, and other experts in prayer.

So there you have it.  Maybe you won’t have to suffer exile and imprisonment to defend the faith, but defend it you will be called to do.  So get ready now: don’t slack off in your studies, and don’t skimp on your prayer.

Love, Uncle Eddy

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