St Sylvester I

Pope (entered heaven this day 335)

Dear Lester,

Might I make a suggestion?  Before heading out to your traditional New Year’s Eve bash, why not spend a little time with our Lord.  He deserves some gratitude for the many blessings he has given you this past year, and you could use some self-examination, talking to him about the good and the bad on your side of the equation.

It pains me to think of how many people celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another, without sparing even a thought for the One who has given us the great gift of our existence, the One who guides and governs history with wisdom and love.  It would pain me even more to think that my nieces and nephews had fallen under the same secular spell.

While you’re at it, why not look for a motto for the coming year?  Something to focus your energies on, something to give you direction amid the ups and downs and unpredictable “arounds” of the unforeseen future.  I have always thought that New Year’s Mottos are better than New Year’s Resolutions.  They last longer.  And I think today’s saint could give you some good leads.

Sylvester was a native Roman, educated by devout parents who had the assistance of a holy priest named Charitius.  Grace found nutritious soil in this environment, and Sylvester grew in wisdom and holiness, until he was ordained a priest by Pope Marcellinus, just before the horrible persecutions of Diocletian.  In the aftermath of that persecution, the Emperor Constantine underwent his conversion and legalized Christianity (actually, he ordered free practice of religion, whichever it be, but at heart he wished to put an end to the bloody persecution of Christians).  A little over a year later, Pope Melchiades died, and Sylvester was chosen to succeed him.  He faced a gargantuan task.

In addition to the construction of the first places of public Christian worship, like the basilicas of St John Lateran and St Peter (constructions which would shape Christian art, architecture, and liturgy for the rest of history, by setting the first precedent in each of those fields), Sylvester had to rein in the burgeoning heresies that threatened to divide the recently liberated Church.  He sent delegates to the council in Arles to resolve the Donatist schism and the Quartodeciman heresy, and he also sent delegates to the great Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the especially insidious Arian heresy.  Arius claimed that Christ was not fully divine, and his heresy became a lever used by Patriarchs and Emperors in the East to batter away at Church unity and papal primacy.  At Nicea, however, the authentic doctrine was affirmed, and every Sunday, when we proclaim that we believe in Jesus Christ, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, ONE IN BEING with the Father…” we are quoting the term coined by St Sylvester.  He died after being pope for 21 years.

If you were to ask St Sylvester for a good motto for the New Year, I think I know what he say: “Keep your eyes on Christ.”  That’s how he designed the first Christian basilicas, with everyone’s eyes focused on the altar and the apse, where Christ appears most strikingly, and that’s what he asserted at the great Council of Nicea, by contributing and authorizing the magnificent litany of Christ’s privileges, and giving three times as much space to Jesus as to any other article in the Creed.

That’s what I think he’d say.  But why not ask him yourself?  I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you about it.  Happy New Year.

Your loving uncle,


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