Feast Day: November 23rd
“Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damien…” This week, on the 23rd we celebrate the Clement of this list, and the following day, on November 24th, we get to honor Chrysogonus. These early saints have been listed in our Roman Canon (Eucharist Prayer I) for most of the Church’s history, probably some 1500 or 1600 years! Not to leave Chrysogonus, the 4th century Roman martyr out – perhaps we’ll come back to his story another time – but this week we turn the clock even further back to make the friendship of Clement. He is the earliestof the Apostolic Fathers – the bishop-teachers who were the first after the apostles to annunciate and explain the faith. He, the Bishop of Rome, from 88 to 99 AD, knew St. Peter personally and was the fourth bishop of the eternal city (after the aforementioned Linus and Cletus), (according to another Apostolic Father, St. Irenaeus, who we met already back in June, and who several decades after Clement, emphasized the importance of those earliest, and preeminent bishops and martyrs.)
As with so many early saints, we don’t have much more than an outline of his personal story, yet we have the entirety of a letter that Clement wrote to the church at Corinth, correcting and teaching and encouraging, as does our Holy Father down to our own day in what we now call encyclicals. So, we have here a beautiful example of the Pope’s munera (purpose/office/charism) already cherished in the first days of the Church! Throughout this long letter we have references to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, as well as Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Titus, 1 Timothy, and Hebrews and Acts, besides references to Christ known in the Gospels. We have most of the New Testament here referenced before the turn of the first Christian century!
But I turn to Clement today not so much for his theology, or ecclesiology, or where he fits into Christian history, but to continue our discussion of anthropology. What has the vocation sought, and found, by St. Frances Xavier Cabrini have to do with the musings of St. Albert the Great on our soul and body, and what do either of them have to do with this 4th pope and his words to the Church of Corinth? All of them fit together around this great question: “what is man that You [God] are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor…” [Psalm 8:4-5] God calls us, God cares for us, God created us … with glory, and beauty, and intelligence, and creativity, and freedom. This is the mystery we discover in ourselves. It is this reality that we see as we walk through the twists and turns of life as God’s turns us into saints. And it is this glorious creation and care that is visible in nature, and imprinted upon our nature.
And, this month as we wrestle with these questions of freedom and dignity and conscience and call, that whole question is already summed up two-thirds of the way through Clement’s words to the Corinthians: “Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him.” [Pope Clement I, Letter to Corinthians, #41] He gives the example of the Jewish sacrifices, how they are offered only in Jerusalem, and the different sacrifices are offered by the various ranks of priests. Of course, this fits well with the rest of the letter where, amongst other things, he speaks at length on the structure of the Church, and who has the authority/responsibility at each level to pass on the Gospel (including his own authority, over the entire Church, including Corinth), but he also speaks specifically to each of us as well. If you were puzzled by the meanderings of Frances’ discernment or the cerebral musings of Albert, let this line from Clement clarify things:
- God created us with freedom – the ability to choose (a gift that we should use to choose what is truly good). When you feel the weight of that gift, consider how happy God is when you use it well!
- Each of us, the Lord entrusts, with a realm of responsibility – above all else, this is the souls we are meant to direct towards heaven (our own firstly, then those within our vocation, then our friends and coworkers). Don’t be overly concerned with all the problems out there; stick with those God has given you!
- And, He has placed within our heart a conscience – formed by the Revelation found in Scripture and proclaimed by the Church (which should direct our actions). Focus on forming it properly, and following it faithfully, and God will lead you on the path He desires!
– Fr. Rankin would struggle to name his favorite Church in Rome, or the most beautiful, or the most important … but the Church of San Clemente (where this venerable Pope is now buried, and which bears his name) does fit one superlative: most psychotic. The “modern” basilica, built in the 1100s, sits on top of a 4th century basilica, which sits on top of a temple to Mithra, which sits on top of a prior Christian house-church, which was built over the top of a Roman mint, which was itself built on top of some other building which burned down in the fire of 60 AD… If you visit it, you can see all those different personalities for yourself, just go down the stairs.