I had intended – with great anticipation – to submit a post in commemoration of the saint whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, i.e., St. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western Monasticism and co-patron saint of Europe. While I would still like to point people in the direction of the following article concerning the “Benedict Option,” I sadly had not the time to compose said post. Mea maxima culpa. As far as excuses go, I have a pretty good one. On July 1st, my wife, son, and I welcomed a new addition into our family. His name is Antony Pio Coleman, but he is affectionately called Nino by his family.
By a very Catholic coincidence, Nino happens to be named after the great founder of monasticism in Eastern Christianity, St. Antony the Great of Egypt. For those who have not encountered it, St. Athanasius’ Vita Antoni is a classic of Christian Spirituality which bears much reading and re-reading. St. Augustine, for one, was moved towards his conversion by this text (cf. Conf. 8.6, 12). And while my oldest son is named in honor my wife’s grandfather, Moses, St. Moses is also another Eastern monastic saint. Thus, we seem to have a “Desert Fathers” theme as it relates to the naming of our children.
During the car-ride home from the hospital, I mentioned to my wife that I had an SJC blog post due and would likely not be able to meet my deadline. My wife, of course, suggested that I write on a topic which would be more suitable for a monograph than a blog post, and more insightful if written by a woman rather than a man. But, being a faithful husband, I shall try to convey the parallel which she drew in a few words. She was describing the process of giving birth and the sacrificial love involved in offering one’s own life for the good of another. In the Christian context, the Cross of Christ is the source and summit of this sacrificial love. And through the grace which Christ won for us on his Cross, he unites our acts of sacrificial love to his Sacrifice. Christ’s Sacrifice was perfect; our participation in his Cross adds nothing to Christ’s offering. Rather, being united to Christ benefits us, the members of the Church. Thus, St. Paul can write: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). What “is lacking” resides not with Christ, but with us. The Cross of Christ is the one, true, perfect Sacrifice, and to draw close to Christ we must draw towards the Cross. There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. But in doing so Christ conforms us to himself.
The greatest examples of being conformed to Christ by joining his suffering are the martyrs. During the aforementioned car-ride home from the hospital, my wife mentioned – in particular – the martyrdom account of St. Polycarp. During his execution by the Roman authorities, St. Polycarp (69-155) was surrounded by a “ring of fire.” But the fire did not consume him (cf. Ex 3:2). “[H]e was within it not as burning flesh but rather as bread being baked.” Through his witness, Polycarp was being conformed to Christ, his suffering was being united to Christ’s Sacrifice, he was being “transubstantiated” into the Eucharist.
As the parent of young children, I can only imagine the moments for sacrificial love which will appear in the near future. But, I pray, Christ uses them to bring me, my wife, and our children, into greater conformity with him. According to my wife, the birthing process has given her quite a bit of a lead on me. In that regard, I have some catching up to do.
Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.