At Holy Mass today, we hear the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
On the Mount, Lord Jesus taught us how to have a relationship with God. Christ spoke with the authority of… God.
A Christian simply obeys. Repent, beg mercy, live in Christ’s love. Not complicated. Obey Christ, live in His Church. She possesses His words, His sacraments, His heavenly graces. She is by no means perfect in every respect. But true friendship with the Creator is possible because: the Church survives through thick and thin, all over the world.
Speaking of the world: World Cup. I would root for the US, but we’re not in it. So I root like mad for our friend and neighbor, the homeland of so many of our fellow parishioners, a nation with whom we share an enormous amount of history and culture, not to mention our Catholic faith.
Sweden slaughtered Mexico yesterday, 3-0. But Mexico survived to the next round anyway. Because South Korea beat Germany and knocked them out of the tournament. South Korea is out, too. South Korea and Germany went down in flames together. But because South Korea won, Mexico survived to play another day. When you survive, there’s hope. So Mexicans around the world are looking for Koreans to befriend.
Anyway: St. John the Apostle gave the mysteries of Jesus Christ to his pupil St. Polycarp. St. Polycarp gave them to his pupil, St. Irenaeus. St. Irenaeus is one of the first bishops who actually grew up Catholic, having been presented for baptism as an infant by Christian parents. St. Irenaeus shepherded his flock, in what is now France, before anyone ever thought of a book called a “Bible,” before anyone ever uttered the phrase “New Testament.”
Don’t get me wrong. The little books of the New Testament had long since been written. You could make a list of them, in fact, based on the writings that St. Irenaeus cited in his preaching and teaching. St. Irenaeus gave us the idea of a “New Testament,” a “Christian Bible”–by quoting from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters of Sts. Paul, Peter, and John.
Irenaeus cited these writings because they expressed and deepened the teaching and the ceremonies that he had learned from St. Polycarp, which came from St. John, and from Jesus Himself. The Church’s simple Sacred Tradition.
Simple and beautiful. Except that, for St. Irenaeus, it wasn’t so simple or beautiful. It was messy, like Mexico surviving to the Round of 16. At the time in history when St. Irenaeus had souls in his care, plenty of other books circulated, in addition to the New Testament books, purporting to offer Christian, or “spiritual,” teaching. Plenty of other authorities sought to win the adherence of the people, outside the fold of the Church. Kinda like now.
So Irenaeus had to sort it all out. He had to find a way to keep the true, simple faith of the Church alive in his part of the world. By investigating, arguing, and studying the true words of Christ constantly.
Irenaeus did it. It was a messy fight, but he did it. He kept the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church alive in Lyons. For that we rightly regard him as a towering hero.
He dealt with hard, complicated things, so that we could inherit the simple, beautiful thing to which the New Testament testifies: the mystery of Jesus Christ alive in His Church.
He died a martyr 1,816 years ago today. Pray for us, St. Irenaeus! Especially for this joker who was born on your feastday. (And for his mother, who deserves the credit.)