Monday, July 17, 2017

Saint Alexius, Confessor

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Although we are not commanded to follow the Saints to the extremities where their heroic virtue leads them, nevertheless, from their inaccessible heights, they still guide us along the easier paths of the plain. As the eagle upon the orb of day, they fixed their unflinching gaze upon the Sun of Justice; and, irresistibly attracted by his divine splendor, they poised their flight far above the cloudy region where we are glad to screen our feeble eyes. But however varied be the degrees of brightness for them and for us, the light itself is unchangeable, provided that, like them, we draw it from the authentic source. When the weakness of our sight would lead us to mistake false glimmerings for the truth, let us think of these friends of God; if we have not courage enough to imitate them, where the commandments leave us free to do so or not, let us at least conform our judgments and appreciations to theirs: their view is more trustworthy, because farther reaching; their sanctity is nothing but the rectitude wherewith they follow up unflinchingly, even to its central focus, the heavenly ray, whereof we can scarcely bear a tempered reflection. Above all, let us not be led so far astray by the will-o’-the-wisps of this world of darkness, as to wish to direct, by their false light, the actions of the saints: can the owl judge better of the light than the eagle?

Descending from the pure firmament of the holy Liturgy even to the humblest conditions of Christian life, the light which led Alexius to the highest point of detachment, is thus subdued by the Apostle to the capacity of all: “If any man take a wife, he hath not sinned, nor the virgin whom he marrieth; nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh, which I would fain spare you. This, therefore, I say, brethren: the time is short; it remaineth, therefore, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”

Yet it passes not too quickly for our Lord to show that His words never pass away. Five centuries after the glorious death of Alexius, the eternal god, to whom distance and time are as nothing, gave him a hundredfold the posterity he had renounced for the love of Him. The monastery on the Aventine, which still bears his name together with that of the martyr Boniface, had become the common patrimony of East and West in the eternal City; the two great monastic families of Basil and Benedict united under the roof of Alexius, and the seed taken from his tomb by the monk-bishop St. Adalbert brought forth the fruit of faith among the northern nations. The Church gives us the following very short notice of our hero:

Alexius Romanorum nobilissimus, propter eximium Jesu Christi amorem prima nocte nuptiarum peculiari Dei monitu relinquens intactam sponsam, illustrium orbis terræ ecclesiarum peregrinationem suscepit. Quibus in itineribus cum ignotus septemdecim annos fuisset, aliquando apud Edessam, Syriæ urbem, per imaginem sanctissimæ Mariæ Virginis, ejus nomine divulgato, inde navi discessit. Ad portum Romanum appulsus, a patre suo tamquam alienus pauper hospitio accipitur: apud quem omnibus incognitus, cum decem et septem annos vixisset, relicto scripto sui nominis, sanguinis, ac totius vitæ cursu, migravit in cœlum, Innocentio Primo Summo Pontifice.

Alexius was the son of one of Rome’s noblest families. Through his exceeding love for Jesus Christ, he, by a special inspiration from God, left his wife still a virgin on the first night of his marriage, and undertook a pilgrimage to the most illustrious Churches all over the world. For seventeen years he remained unknown, while performing these pilgrimages, and then his name was revealed at Edessa, a town of Syria, by an image of the most holy Virgin Mary. He therefore left Syria by sea and sailed to the port of Rome, where he was received as a guest by his own father who took him for a poor stranger. He lived in his father’s house, unknown to all, for seventeen years, and then passed to heaven, leaving a written paper which revealed his name, his family, and the story of his whole life. His death occurred in the Pontificate of Innocent I.

Man of God! such is the name given thee, O Alexius, by heaven; the name whereby thou art known in the East; and which Rome sanctions by her choice of the Epistle to be read in this day’s Mass. The Apostle there applies this beautiful title to his disciple Timothy, while recommending to him the very virtues thou didst practice in so eminent a degree. This sublime designation, which shows us the dignity of heaven within the reach of men, thou didst prefer to the proudest titles earth could bestow. These latter were indeed offered thee, together with all the honors permitted by God to those who are satisfied with merely not offending him; but thy great soul despised the transitory gifts of the world. In the midst of the splendors of thy marriage-feast, thou didst hear a music which charms the soul from earth; that music which, two centuries before, the noble Cæcilia, too, had heard in another palace of the queen city. The hidden God, who left the joys of the heavenly Jerusalem and on earth had not where to lay his head, discovered himself to thy pure heart; and being filled with his love, thou hadst also the mind which was in Christ Jesus. With the freedom, which yet remained to thee, of choosing between the perfect life, and the consummation of an earthly union, thou didst resolve to be a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth, that thou mightest merit to possess eternal Wisdom in thy heavenly fatherland. O wonderful paths! O unsearchable ways whereby that Wisdom of the Father guides all those who are won by love. The Queen of heaven, as of applauding this spectacle worthy of Angels, revealed to the East the illustrious name thou wouldst fain conceal under the garb of holy poverty. A second flight brought thee back, after seventeen years’ absence, to the land of thy birth, and even there thou wert able, by thy valiant faith, to dwell as in a strange land. Under that staircase of thy home, now held in loving veneration, thou wert exposed to the insults of thy own slaves, being but an unknown beggar in the eyes of thy father and mother, and of the bride who still mourned for thee. There didst thou spend, without ever betraying thyself, another seventeen years, awaiting thy happy passage to thy true home in heaven. God himself made it an hour to be called thy God, when at the moment of thy precious death a mighty voice resounded through Rome, bidding all seek the “man of God.” Remember, O Alexius, what the voice added concerning that man of God: “He shall pray for Rome, and shall be heard.” Pray, then, for the illustrious city of thy birth, which owed to thee its safety under the assault of the barbarians, and which now surrounds thee with far greater honors than it would have done, hadst thou but upheld within its walls the traditions of thy noble ancestors. Hell boasts of having snatched that city from the successors of Peter and Innocent: pray, and may heaven hear thee once more, against the modern successors of Alaric. Guided by the light of thy sublime actions, may the Christian people rise more and more above the earth; lead us all safely by the narrow way to the home of our heavenly Father!

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