Renewal of Vows – Sr Mary Immanuel Feast of St Justin Martyr

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Renewal of Vows – Sr Mary Immanuel Feast of St Justin Martyr

Dear Sisters, I think you all love saints, and you love to become a saint yourself. Is that correct?

So this evening as Sr Mary Immanuel renews her vows it is appropriate to give attention to the saint whom the Church honours this day. This saint, like all saints, teaches us and inspires us, and we seek his intercession to help us become saints. So what does St Justin Martyr have to offer us?

I find the story of conversion of saints always of much interest. Often it is the case that the conversion process sets the path for the character of the saint’s journey.

Justin was born in the year 100 into a pagan family of Greek origin, actually in the old biblical city of Shechem in Samaria, the royal shrine. Now the town of Nablus. He clearly had an intellectual bent and sought out meaning for his life in philosophy. His first teacher was a Stoic who he later said "knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of him to be necessary." Then he took up with a Peripatetic, or itinerant philosopher, who Justin sensed was most interested in getting his fees. Then he sought the guidance of a Pythagorean, but the program of music, astronomy, and geometry seemed far too slow for this inquisitive young man. Finally, he explored Platonism, which though intellectually demanding, just could not satisfy his searching.

Finally around the year 130 he met a Christian, an old man. What this man spoke about transformed Justin. He said that "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do."

He became one of the first Christian philosophers and began to argue for the faith from the aspect of reason. He wrote a number of very important early Christian writings. In Ephesus he entered an intellectual dispute with a Jew named Trypho about the interpretation of Sacred Scripture. In his work, Dialogue with Trypho he presented a Christian understanding of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Christ.

Later he moved to Rome and founded a Christian school. He wrote two important apologies for the faith. Apologies are really defenses for the faith, not apologising for the faith. One was addressed to the Emperor Antoninus in which he provided the most ancient description of what happened at the Christian Mass. The second tract was to the new emperor, Marcus Aurelius. It was a deeply philosophical work which was built around the idea that Christ is the Logos incarnate.

Justin and some of his Christian companions were arrested for their faith. When the prefect threatened them with death, Justin said, "If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved." They were taken out and beheaded. Justin was given the surname Martyr, which of course means “witness”. He gave the supreme witness to his faith in dying for it.

The first reading this evening is most fitting for the feast of St Justin. St Paul says that the language of the cross is illogical to those who are not on the way of salvation. But it is in fact the power of God to save. It defies logic and yet is the most profound logic. It baffles the human mind, but penetrates the human heart. It moves human beings from the horizontal pursuit of truth to an openness to transcendent truth.

Sr Immanuel, we will always glory not in human wisdom or the culture of the day, but in divine wisdom revealed in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This evening as you renew your vows for another two years, I invite you to renew your desire to embrace afresh the language of the cross. Let the cross be always for you the power of God to save. May your continuing service of the Gospel enable many people to come to know this profound and wonderful truth.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 1 June 2016