I’ll be honest: I am not a huge fan of patristics, the earliest Church fathers. When first introduced to the patristic fathers in my twenties, I often found their writing a touch misogynistic and too stilted for my taste. Of course, I was young, naïve, and had no clue about things like historical context.
So today, on this Memorial of Saint Justin, an early apologist, I want to make up for the bold obliviousness of my youth, thank the myriads who patiently educated me, and remember, it’s a tough work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. To do it well and lovingly makes real demands.
Raised by pagan parents, Justin’s keen mind went looking for answers to life’s questions in the passing thought-trends of his day. None satisfied until he started reading the Old Testament prophets and even earlier Church Fathers.
“I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ,” he wrote. “I . . . found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable” (Dialogus cum Tryphone 8).
Saint Paul was certainly among those men that helped to convert Justin. Today, we read in Acts 18 how Paul traveled and taught the faith, “bringing strength to all the disciples.” There is also the account of Aquila and Priscilla (this powerful married couple in the early Church) having to school the new convert Apollos in order to make him more effective for the Kingdom.
To fight against the ignorance that breeds the bifurcation of faith and reason, or outright persecution broadcast as entertainment, we all need constant cultivation, instruction, humility, and most of all, conversion.
May any attempt I make at instructing the ignorant be aimed at bringing strength and underpinned by the knowledge that one day, like Saint Justin, like Saint Paul, it may cost me everything.
Saint Justin, pray for us.
Read a few profound sayings of the Desert Mothers.
Liz Kelly is a jazz singer who fell in love with Jesus. She writes, teaches, offers spiritual direction and retreats with a special interest in helping women to flourish in their faith. She’s written six books, including the award-winning Jesus Approaches and the Jesus Approaches Take-Home Retreat. And she still sings jazz, but mainly in the tub and while washing dishes. Find out more about her here.