How romantic, I remember thinking. Getting engaged on the heels of a charity bike ride, in front of the chapel where we’d walked on our first date… How memorable.
And it was each of these things.
The truth is I had begun to get a little, ahem, antsy for what I hoped would be a proposal several Septembers ago. I imagined it was coming. But after a few milestone dates passed, it was anyone’s guess when this might occur. I had become suspicious of any and all happenings. So, when he did pop the question, I was thinking of very little else.
As we talked, he shared that he’d waited until this day so that we might begin planning for our life together as a married couple. We wanted to be always mindful of those who are poor and marginalized, in the spirit of this great Saint we both had come to admire—John Chrysostom—whose feast we celebrate today.
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St. John Chrysostom, Our Patron Saint
I might have known there would have been someone sitting outside the restaurant where we’d gone to celebrate our engagement that night, quietly asking for leftovers outside of the brightly-colored benches and front doors. As I handed him my box of leftover alfredo, I had an inclination that more than a meaningful proposal, this Saint meant to begin a lifetime of walking with us. It was going to begin today.
Lovely. Who couldn’t use a devoted intercessor?
The Golden Mouth
Except, if you were to take a survey of his peers, by and large, most folks didn’t care for St. John Chrysostom. Or maybe they liked him in theory, but he wasn’t the type of person you might think of as an obvious addition to a casual gathering of friends.
He was wordy, fiery, frank, and Gospel-centered. John was compelled by God Incarnate and the call to serve the poor with Jesus’ humanity in mind. He was dubbed “the golden mouth” because of the very pretty, very many words he’d use to make his points at the pulpit.
Do You Fast?
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers and sisters? May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us. -St. John Chrysostom
A Constant Call to Holiness
There are days I wonder if this John Chrysostom engagement vision wasn’t such a good idea. After all, who wants to have a justice-minded, truth-talker constantly encouraging you to re-evaluate the decisions you have to make in terms of the most vulnerable? Not I.
The truth is, I don’t really want to be dogged by conscience about everything from who harvested my coffee, to the size of my carbon footprint, to whose hands stitched my clothing. But I need to be. As a couple, we need it. We need it to keep us close to our original vision of this shared life. We need it to put flesh on those invitations we hear throughout the Gospels to follow Him.
Though his influence has been the source of a fair amount of consternation (because it has pushed us beyond our comfort zones for the sake of the Kingdom), it has also led us to people, places, and organizations that help us stay true to our vision.
We often struggle to live lives of such intentionality, to even have the energy to think about it. But that place of struggle and the accompanying tension has provided me almost a tangible assurance that our efforts are put to some use. Even in the daily practice of dying to my own desires.
Keeping Priorities Straight
Our patron, St. John Chrysostom, has a habit of making us ask ourselves often if our priorities are in order. As hard as that is to hear, it is also vitally important. And we keep on listening.
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If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.