Today is the Memorial of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. It is also the morning I led my first Communion service as a deacon candidate at All Saints Catholic Church. It was quite an experience being up on the altar rather than in the pews. Of course, I’ve served Mass before and have been both a Lector and Eucharistic Minister. But, it is quite a difference experience being behind the altar and leading the congregation in the prayers. I pray that it was helpful for the prayers of those gathered and that any ministry to which our good Lord calls me will offer me an opportunity only to be His instrument in bringing grace to others.
Here is the reflection I gave for the Memorial of St. Irenaeus at the Communion service:
Today is the Memorial of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop and Martyr. Irenaeus was born into a Christian family around the year 130 in Smyrna, which is in present day Turkey, and received his education there. In 177, he was ordained a priest in Lugdunum, in Gaul, which is modern-day Lyons, in southeastern France. That same year, Irendaeus was sent on a mission to the pope in Rome, to deliver a letter on the heresy of Montanism that was infecting Gaul (Montanism was a heresy that regarded personal prophecy and private revelations as authoritative as Scripture). During his absence, a persecution of the Church in Lugdunum took place, and the bishop was martyred. On his return, Irenaeus was elevated as the second bishop of Lugdunum.
St. Irenaeus is called “the Father of Theology” for his writings in defense of the Catholic faith against heresies, especially Gnosticism, and for expounding on the essential elements of the faith, including the Trinity, our redemption in Christ as the New Adam, our faith in Mary as the New Eve, and our confidence in the truth of the faith handed down by the Apostles through the apostolic succession of our bishops. St. Irenaeus put together a list of books that the Christians of his time revered as Scripture and that list remains the oldest surviving list to include all the books of what came to be the NT. So, Irenaeus’ witness was important for the Church’s discerning what books belonged in the Christian Scriptures. By tradition, St. Irenaeus died as a martyr in Lugdunum in 202.
One of the great contributions to Catholic theology provided by St. Irenaeus was his writings on our redemption in Christ. Building on what St. Paul had written in his Letters to the Romans and to the Corinthians, Irenaeus taught that Christ was the New Adam. By disobedience, Adam had cursed all men and women to sin, to alienation from God. By His life lived in perfect obedience to God, Jesus reconciled humankind to the Father, giving new life to all. So, like Paul, Irenaeus taught that it was not just by His sacrifice and death on the cross that Christ won for us our redemption, but by His entire life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, even onto death. Christ became man and lived every age of man, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, so that every age of man could be redeemed. Just as Adam had no earthly father, but was created by God from the dust of the earth, so Christ had no earthly father, but was born of the obedience of Mary to God’s will for her. Mary, as well, is the New Eve. Our relationship with God, broken by Eve, the virgin who disobeyed, is restored by Mary, the virgin who obeyed – “be it done onto me according to your word.”
A favorite quote of mine from St. Irenaeus is: “The glory of God is man, fully human, fully alive!” St. Irenaeus, true to a Catholic understanding of the Incarnation, did not regard our humanity as something wicked, something to be conquered. Rather, our humanity, broken as it is, created by God, is good and glorious and something to be restored and fulfilled. As always, Jesus is our example, fully divine and fully human, His humanity was not a curse to Him but a blessing. It was as a human that Jesus ministered to the poor and downtrodden, healed the infirm and raised the dead, called people to follow Him, as He does in today’s Gospel, suffered, died and rose again, and it is as a human that He sits at the right hand of the Father. St. Irenaeus knew and preached that God who created us in His image desires to restore us to that image, an image that is fully human, fully alive.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.