As we conclude this June, we will celebrate four saints over three days who were crucial during the early days of the Church. Yesterday we celebrated St. Cyril of Alexandria. Today we celebrate St. Irenaeus. Tomorrow we will celebrate Sts. Peter and Paul. All these saints were instrumental in the spreading of the Gospel and in the formation of the Church during its first few centuries. Even though they lived long ago, their lives carry many messages for us today.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
St. Cyril was the bishop of Alexandria in the beginning of the 400s when the city was powerful politically and intellectually. Throughout his life, St. Cyril of Alexandria faced many political conflicts with other bishops, the patriarch of Constantinople, and the Roman emperor. However, even through these challenging situations, he remained steadfast in his faith and was a proliferous theological writer. Today he is counted among the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church. One of the teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria that has always stuck with me is his defense of Mary under the title of “Theotokos.” Theotokos roughly translates to “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” and has been a title of Mary in the Church, especially in Eastern churches, since the time of St. Cyril. Some of my favorite icons of Mary represent her as Theotokos and have really helped me grasp St. Cyril of Alexandria’s teaching.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Irenaeus. St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the 2nd century known during his lifetime as one of the last living connections to the Apostles. Like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus was a prolific theologian who helped guide the Church through many theological controversies and heresies, most notably Gnosticism. For this theological impact on the Church, St. Iraneus was named a Doctor of the Church (just earlier this year by Pope Francis). If you like the nitty-gritty of theology, I encourage you to read more about St. Irenaeus. For me, the quote from St. Irenaeus that has had the biggest impact on my life is: “the glory of God is man fully alive.” I always found the word fully particularly inspiring. I connected this with John 10:10, “a thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Throughout our life, in both the big events and the mundane events of day-to-day life, Jesus is calling us to full, abundant life.
Sts. Peter and Paul
Tomorrow we will celebrate the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Unlike a majority of saint’s feast days, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is celebrated as a solemnity as a sign of their importance to the early days of the faith. While there are many elements of the lives of Sts. Peter and Paul that could be explored, I have always found it striking that they are celebrated on the same day. After St. Paul’s conversion, St. Peter was in a very challenging position that took strong leadership guided by the Holy Spirit to navigate welcoming Paul into the community he once sought to kill. Then, throughout their time working together, they frequently did not see eye to eye on the important issues they faced. Yet, through their disagreements they kept the greater good of the Church in mind and both ended up being martyred for the faith. In our day and age, I think we all can learn a lot from the leadership and collaboration guided by the Holy Spirit exemplified by Sts. Peter and Paul, even when we do not necessarily get along with the people we are working with.
Let us always pray for the intercession of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus, and Sts. Peter and Paul as we strive to learn from their example and bring Christ to those in our lives.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in June, and each month, click here.