Homilette for Fiday, May 2, 2008

Memorial of St. Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(John 16:20-23)

In the gospel Jesus describes a mother’s joy in giving birth. Today we would want to include the father’s participation in that bliss. In having children parents contribute to the great chain of life. They not only experience solidarity with humanity but also realize a primordial personal goal. Their genetic material – what used to be called blood-line – is handed on. It is assurance against death in a way. Rather than being totally obliterated by time, they now have progeny to carry evidence of their existence into the future.

Of course, Jesus is only making a comparison when he speaks of the birthing process. Like a mother rejoices after the pang of birth, he says, his disciples will exult after the anguish of his crucifixion. We should see more here than a turn of emotion from unbearable sorrow to uncontainable joy. There is a deeper parallel between giving birth and rising from the dead. The one on whom the disciples have latched their hopes for the future has delivered. Better than handing on genetic material, they will achieve everlasting life.

Jesus then refers to “the Father,” a term the evangelist John continually cites to indicate Jesus’ filial relationship with God. We should take care, however, that we do not understand this bond to mean that the Son has issued from the Father like a child is borne of his parents. Today we remember St. Athanasius, the genius of the fourth century who saved the Church from this latter idea in the fourth century. At the time Christianity was deeply divided between those who understood Christ as one with the Father from all eternity and the so-called Arians who accepted Christ as created in time and therefore subordinate to the Father. St. Athanasius’ conception of the Father and the Son being of the same nature, alike in everything except being distinct persons, proved faithful to Scripture and traditional belief. It is the faith that we proclaim to this day in the Nicene Creed on Sunday.