Tuesday, January 20, 2009
"Pope Fabian: meet our 44th President, Barack Obama"
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,
and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
It has been a day to remember! I can't remember a time when I've been more proud to be an American, a citizen of these United States. A lady, whom I overheard as she was standing in the checkout line of the market today, summed it all up beautifully: "At least we have hope again."
In the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church, January 20 is the commemoration of a 3rd century leader, the inscription on whose tomb reads simply: "Fabian...bishop...martyr". But not just any bishop: Fabian was the Bishop of Rome, the Pontiff, the Pope. He served for fourteen years after being chosen through the most unusual circumstances. When an assembly was held in Rome in 236 to elect a successor to Antherus, Fabian was a layman from another part of Italy, just one of the crowd looking on. The noted church historian, Eusebius, records that a dove suddenly flew over the crowd and, guess what?: it landed on Fabian's head! In that precarious situation (a number of jokes come to mind!), and despite the fact that Fabian was a total stranger, not ordained, and certainly not a candidate for papal office, the crowd suddenly broke forth in a chant indicating their unanimous consensus to choose Fabian as their Pope: "He is worthy! He is worthy!", they shouted, and I know all of you are immediately thinking of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, though their mantra was couched in the negative! Amazingly, though, no one objected, and so Fabian found himself ordained as the Bishop of Rome. Perhaps there are lessons here on how to conduct future elections?!
As the leader of the Catholic Church, Fabian made numerous administrative reforms, developing the parish structure of the Church in Rome and establishing the custom of venerating martyrs [literally, witnesses, in Greek] at their shrines in the famous catacombs. He appointed a committee of seven deacons and seven subdeacons to record the lives of the martyrs, and I assume that this was the basis for the Roman Martyrology, with which we, as seminarians, became familiar from its daily reading to us in the refectory at lunchtime. Highly inappropriate, we thought, but we learned a lot about the multitudinous ways that holy men and women could be "done in", in quite some detail, I might add! Fabian also vigorously defended the faith against a new theological heresy which had arisen. Apparently, not everyone, the emperor Decian in particular, appreciated Fabian's strong leadership, for the emperor saw to it that Fabian himself was "done in" around 250 C.E.
I believe that President Obama reflects traits which match some of Fabian's, as well as things in Matthew's Gospel reading for the feast of Fabian, which says: "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves...Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time...The one who endures to the end will be saved..." We heard President Obama's eloquent testimony this morning: "I stand here today humbled by the task before us..."; "We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.."; "...greatness is never a given. It must be earned."; "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done..."; "...the world has changed, and we must change with it."; "...service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater...is precisely [the] spirit that must inhabit us all..."; "...This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny."
Had Pope Fabian been lucky enought to get a seat at the inauguration this morning, I have a feeling that he and the new President would have gotten along fabulously.