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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Featured Saint

The Patron Saint of Losers

       As we continue our travel and incessant survey of world affairs we came across the patron saint of losers, a true-to-life personage from Britain’s early history but very apropos to our times.
In the year 664, in Britain, an abbot stepped down from the powerful position of bishop after his predecessor, who was missing and feared dead, suddenly turned up alive and well. St. Chad became the patron saint of good losers.
       Even if modern citizens have little or no idea who he was, St. Chad’s name is everywhere in Chad’s name is everywhere in Britain – Chadbrook, Chadbury, Chadshurst, Chadsmoor, Chadstone, Chadwell, Chad Valley. In Birmingham and the surrounding countryside, over 30 ancient churches, and many more Victorian and modern ones, are dedicated to his memory.
       St. Chad was profoundly ascetic; radiating humility and self-abasement that characterize would be saints. He was ordained in 653, at probably no younger than the canonical age of 30. He learned Latin; he could recite some at least of the Gospels and the Psalms by heart, and studied arithmetic and astronomy. He was sent to an unknown monastery in Ireland to study for priesthood and was ordained there. On his return he got involved in a controversy which overshadowed the whole life of the English Church at the time. The issue, hotly disputed then as in modern Orthodoxy, was the Church calendar: should they follow the Celtic way of calculating Easter, or that lay down by the Council of Nicaea and followed by the rest of the Church at this time, including, of course, Rome.
       A leading protagonist in the controversy was Wilfrid. Early in 664, Wilfrid decided that the matter of the date of Easter would have to be resolved. He summoned a synod in Whitby, and persuaded them to accept the universal date. The area was struck by the plague; several of the monks caught it. In the same year Wilfrid was appointed Bishop of York, and went for this consecration in Paris. He did not come back to his new diocese for two years. Meanwhile, it was not strange that the King of Northumbria, Oswy, should have despaired of the new bishop’s return and decided to look for another.  Knowing the holy Abbot of Lastingham, he believed him to be an ideal choice. St. Chad was reluctant to take on such a responsibility and felt himself unworthy, but was persuaded under obedience. St. Chad immediately devoted himself to maintain the truths of the Church, and set himself to practice humility and chastity and to study. He was a holy man, modest in his ways, learned in the Scriptures, and one who was careful to practice all that he found in them.
        In 666, Wilfrid returned from Paris to discover that Chad had been ordained to his own diocese in his absence, and he was not pleased. However, nothing was done until 669, when Theodore of Tarsus, by then Archbishop of Canterbury, took the matter up. Theodore summoned Chad and pointed out three serious flaws in his ordination as bishop. Two of the bishops were out of communion with the Church; the one canonical bishop who had taken part had been charged with simony; and finally Chad had been consecrated to a See that was in fact not vacant since Wilfrid had already been appointed and ordained. Chad’s response in the face of Episcopal ordination is reminiscent of that of St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom, and many others. He replied that he had never felt himself worthy of ordination and he was more than happy to return to Lastingham as a simple monk. So impressed was Archbishop Theodore by Chad’s saintly humility that he offered to ordain him canonically to the episcopacy (perhaps he had this idea in mind from the start). This was done, but Chad insisted that he would surrender the diocese of York to Wilfrid.
         In 672, the plaque which had brought death to Chad’s brothers now caught up with Chad himself. A lovely description of his death: Seven days before the Abbot’s death, his friend and disciple heard the sound of sweet and joyful singing coming down from heaven to earth. As the friend stood astonished, wondering what this might portend, he was summoned into the oratory by Chad, who told him to bring the other seven Brothers. Having urged them all to live in the peaceful and loving spirit of the monastic life, he told them that he would soon be summoned out of this world. Chad then told the friend in secret, in answer to his question, that the voices were those of angels who would come in seven days to take him away to the heavenly reward “that I have always hoped and longed for”. In seven days one may rightly believe he was taken by the angels to the joys of heaven.
         Since in many controversies the protagonists both claim righteousness and the grace of God, here is one prayer that can prepare the loser to accept his fate. Prayer on the Feast of Saint Chad –
“Almighty God, whose servant Chad, for the peace of the Church, relinquished cheerfully the honors that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: keep us, we pray Thee, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced and thy blessed kingdom enlarged; in the name of Him who washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God now and ever, and unto ages of ages." Amen.
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