This coming Friday, 13 September, is the Memorial of St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church. He was a vehement opponent of what he saw as corruption, especially corruption in the imperial court, and he was exiled by the Empress Eudoxia, dying in 407 AD. This story is simple enough, but the depths are far more important and impressive.
Because John was originally a monk and was only “tricked,” as it were, into becoming Patriarch of the Empire’s new capital city. They did not know what they were asking for! He did not bend to bribes for those clergy seeking to advance their “careers.” His own lifestyle was in sharp contrast to that of the nobles and prelates of Constantinople. And his sermons were equally sharp critiques of their lifestyle. What did John (the “Golden-mouthed”) have to say?
He was willing to list numerous “paths of repentance” (suggesting those who needed them!): condemning one’s own sins, ignoring harm done by enemies, fervent prayer, almsgiving, and a humble, modest lifestyle (Breviary, Office of Readings, Tuesday, 21st Week). Consider what might happen to Abp Wilton Gregory if a) he’d been appointed by the Government and b) preached like this!
He was also a champion of the poor and of the obligations the well-to-do have to come to their aid: “Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not…honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. …What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.
“Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts [to the church]; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. [Our Lord] accepts with the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. …Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? …Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all” (Breviary, Office of Readings, Saturday, 21st Week).
He was a brilliant commentator on Scripture, and his insights were sharp and important. He knew, for example, that the origins of the apostolic preaching had to have begun as a result of the reality of the Resurrection: “It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much” (Breviary, Office of Readings, Feast of St Bartholomew). And he himself risked a great deal by preaching the Truth of Jesus Christ to imperial power. What does this great saint teach us? First and foremost, he shows us that nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39), nor should we allow anything to do this. Second, he reminds us of the critical importance of alms-giving. In fact, the 1st reading from this past Sunday (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 82-29) says the same thing: “…alms atone for sins.” Finally, he shows us that a holy life is a better option than a luxurious life. And he encourages us to choose wisely. Will we?