10 November – Memorial for St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church
Leo (c.400 – 461) was born of Italian nobility. He was a strong student, especially in scripture and theology. As a priest, he was an eloquent writer and homilist.
He was pope from 440-461 during the time of the invasion of Attila the Hun. When Attila marched on Rome, Leo went out to meet him and pleaded for leave. As Leo spoke, Attila saw the vision of a man in priestly robes, carrying a bare sword, and threatening to kill the invader if he did not obey Pope Leo. As Leo had a great devotion to St. Peter, it is generally believed that the first pope was the visionary opponent to the Huns. When Genseric invaded Rome, Leo’s sanctity and eloquence saved the city again.
Pope Leo called the Council of Chalcedon to condemn the heresies of the day, which were Nestorianism (Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son), Monophysitism (Christ’s human nature ceases to exist when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it), Manichaeism (Gnostic system resting on a dualistic concept of the world’s structure), and Pelaianism (no supernatural grace is needed for one to choose good).
He built churches and wrote letters and sermons encouraging and teaching the flock, many of which survive today. It is for these writings that Leo was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1574.
“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” – Pope St. Leo the Great
– Patron Saint Index
It is a great joy to me, in the Lord, that at last you have shown some concern for me again; though of course you were concerned before, and only lacked an opportunity. I am not talking about shortage of money: I have learnt to manage on whatever I have, I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships. In the early days of the Good News, as you people of Philippi well know, when I left Macedonia, no other church helped me with gifts of money. You were the only ones; and twice since my stay in Thessalonika you have sent me what I needed. It is not your gift that I value; what is valuable to me is the interest that is mounting up in your account. Now for the time being I have everything that I need and more: I am fully provided now that I have received from Epaphroditus the offering that you sent, a sweet fragrance – the sacrifice that God accepts and finds pleasing. In return my God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus, as lavishly as only God can.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?
‘No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and laughed at him. He said to them, ‘You are the very ones who pass yourselves off as virtuous in people’s sight, but God knows your hearts. For what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God.’
There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength
“I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me”. The Lord knows how many times I have repeated this to myself. Through deadlines, exams, meetings, breakups – I’ve clung on to these words like a mantra, trying to reassure myself that I can indeed do all things through Christ.
I’ve prayed this in times of trials and tribulations, when I sometimes feel as though I can’t face another day, or don’t see a solution to my problems. It gives me reassurance, no matter how defeated or fatigued I am, that Jesus is with me, helping me to put one foot in front of the other till I get to the finish line. It is Jesus telling me, “We’re going to do this, we’re in this together, you and I.” And it gives me peace – peace in knowing that whatever the outcome, He will not abandon me as He promised.
And what happens if the outcome is not what we expected? Does this mean that God did not give us enough strength to achieve our goal? In our disappointment, we need to look beyond that and even then, God will give us the strength to get over our disappointment. God’s plan for us is not for our understanding, nor does His plan mirror our own plans for ourselves. When St. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was in captivity, which is hardly an ideal situation, but he saw beyond this. He saw his captivity and persecution as a a chance to proclaim the word of God: “… what has happened to me has served to advance the Gospel” (Phil 1:12). St. Paul did not know then what his fate would be, whether he would live or die, but he did know for certain that whatever the situation, Christ would be exalted, and with that he felt reconciled with himself that his trials would not be in vain.
Again, how do we manage if the outcome is not to our desire? We worry about the outcomes: if I don’t get this job, how will I know if I can meet my loan repayments? If I don’t pass these exams, how will I get into a good university? If this agreement doesn’t get signed, will I get fired? The answer to these questions lie in St Paul’s letter further on: “God himself will provide you with everything you need, according to his riches, and show you his generosity in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).
The prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate says it all about the magnitude of God’s strength, and I would like to share an excerpt here with you, with the hopes that it will carry you through your challenges, as it has for me:
“I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.”
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, we pray that our worries do not overwhelm us, that we learn instead to rely on Your unending strength to see us through to the finish line.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always walking with us, every step of the way. Thank you for bearing us up even when we are down, and for never losing faith in us even when we have lost faith in ourselves.