Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Following Christ means, well, following Christ. That means experiencing what He experienced: as a famous book has it, the “agony and the ecstasy.” Or, perhaps truer to the way the spiritual life tends to be, “the ecstasy and the agony.” Many humans are drawn of course to the light of God revealed in Jesus, for this world is a dark, confusing place, and Jesus is light and clarity. But the world is the way it is because it is at war with God, and to be drawn to Jesus is to be drawn from the world, and the world takes its revenge.
St. Paul experienced many, many forms of suffering as he bore witness to the Risen Lord. “Jealousy and violent abuse” were hurled at him and his companions – and, time and again, they would have to “shake the dust from their feet” and move on. The Master had predicted this, had lived it before them.
Three centuries later, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria – in Egypt – was exiled from his see a number of times, once as far as Trier in Germany – because he was witnessing to the truth. Formed by the great St. Antony, father of all monks, Athanasius knew Christ intimately both in the silence of desert prayer and the holy wisdom of orthodox theology – and so drew the wrath of worldly forces down upon him – and that right in the Church.
Following Christ means, well, following Christ. To the Cross – and beyond, into Life.