Today is the feast of Pope Saint John I (470-526), the first Pope to visit Constantinople, on an ambassadorial mission to Emperor Justin on behalf of the Arian King Theodoric, now ruler of the Western empire. The purpose of the mission was to mitigate Justin’s decrees against Arians, a fourth-century heresy which denied the divinity of Christ, condemned by two ecumenical councils, but which still lingered in the Church, particularly amongst Germanic ‘barbarian’ converts like Theodoric.
Pope John made the arduous journey of over 1300 miles with a large and venerable retinue, and was received warmly by the Emperor. By any unbiased account, the Holy Father accomplished his mission, but was accused by Theodoric of conspiring with the emperor (relations between East and West were already fraying), put into a dank prison at Ravenna, where good Pope John, already old and frail, died of neglect and ill-treatment on this day in the year of Our Lord 526.
Providentially, another Pope who took half of his name, the great John Paul II, was born on this day in 1920. In Poland, and other European cultures, they do not celebrate their birthdays so much as the days of their patron saints (which for Karol Wojtyla was November 4th, Saint Charles Borromeo). But I am sure that Pope John was in some ways guiding the life of the young Karol, knowing he was destined to take on the mantle of the papacy, and travel, pray and suffer, more than his eponymous predecessor, for the Church universal. Curiously, John Paul II’s would-be assassin was from Turkey, where is found Constantinople, now named Istanbul.
It is only in the breadth of eternity that we can truly discern the events not only of this world, but in each of our individual lives. What in the rather limited scale of secularity appears as ‘failure’ may in fact be our greatest success, which is why we honour martyrs like Pope John. Like John Paul II 1500 years after him, his ending seems tragic, but their equanimity in persecution, misunderstanding, even apparent futility, sickness and death, is their greatest triumph.
It is also in this light that we should view the political events unfolding, in Washington and elsewhere. In his own way, Mark Steyn is correct in his column this morning, that what we witness with President Trump and the all the ‘deep state’ operatives out to ‘get him’ , all the tweets and emails and whispers, who said what to whom and when, vaguely remembered ‘memos, are more or less machinations in a hamster cage, missing the bigger picture: They accuse Trump of ‘treason’, while outside the hamster cage of Washington the very definition of ‘America’ is being dissolved by untrammelled immigration, demographic collapse and ungoverned debt now in the tens of trillions, and these are just the secular problems, outside all the moral degradation and the abandonment not only of Christian principles, but of reason itself.
The same here in Canada, as big-C ‘Conservatives’ vie for the leadership, few of whom get in any way the bigger picture. Canada is celebrating her 150th sesquicentennial birthday, and although this country offers much that is good, that good is being squandered, as we descend further into moral apathy and eventual anarchy.
The ‘real’ Canada happens not in Parliament Hill, and all their own machinations and manoeuvres which absorb the focus of our news sources, but in the homes and churches across this land, where children are raised in virtue and goodness, the Holy Eucharist offered each day, all the prayers and sacrifices of all people of good will who to some degree get the ‘bigger picture’, even if, especially if, their efforts seem small in the world’s eyes. Four men were ordained for the diocese of Toronto last week, a Jesuit friend will be ordained this Saturday, and four other young men, two of whom we had the honour and privilege of teaching here at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, will be ordained on June 24th for the small diocese of Pembroke; and this says nothing of all the truly Christian marriages, that great and noble adventure, which will provide all the souls for the future of the Church, which these priests will help guide into eternity. This is what will save Canada in these troubled and tumultuous times, just as Pope John’s sacrifice helped ‘save’ the universal Church from its seemingly inevitable demise at the dawn of the ‘Dark Ages’, (if, indeed, Canada is to be saved). Whatever the future, God has all things in His most merciful hands.
Saint John and Saint John Paul, orate pro nobis, and pro patribus nostris!