St Macarius of Ghent

(entered heaven in 1012)

Dear Mack,

I suppose congratulations are in order, so: congratulations.  I know how long you have hoped to become student body president, and how hard you have worked to show that you are worthy of such a position.  You must be satisfied (and perhaps a bit relieved) now that your goal has been achieved.  Yet, part of me can’t seem to rejoice with you.  It’s a part of me that values the state of your soul more than the state of your résumé.  A brief look at today’s saint will, I think, help explain my unease.

Macarius was born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), where all indications show that he received a healthy and normal education.  He seems to have discovered his vocation to the priesthood early on.  He was then made a bishop, and eventually succeeded to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the most important and honored episcopal see in the Byzantine Empire (this was still a few decades before the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches).  Imagine how gratifying it must have been to achieve such a level of influence and notoriety, and to have such a great opportunity to do good for Christ’s Kingdom.  Yet, this saint then did something unheard of.

After serving his flock for a time, and doing so effectively, it seems, he stepped down from the Patriarchal throne.  He simply retired.  He became a pilgrim and spent the rest of his life traveling prayerfully from shrine to shrine and monastery to monastery.  He went west, from Byzantium into Europe.  Wherever he stopped, he edified the people greatly, but only because of his humility and charity.  He didn’t make any big splashes; he didn’t flaunt his résumé.  Finally, having been welcomed into a Benedictine community in Ghent, Belgium, he caught the plague and died.  He was buried there, and venerated almost immediately as a saint.

Admittedly, we don’t really know too much about this fellow, and we could surmise to no end about why he stepped down from his episcopal duties.  Even so, we do know one thing: even the highest honors that his society could offer didn’t satisfy his heart.  When he discovered that, he had the courage to decline the honors in order to give his heart more fully to what it was truly made for – God.

I have a feeling your recent student government triumph will be the first of many.  I pray that amidst all the hullabaloo you will never lose sight of the secret to true success.

Your loving uncle,


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