Friday, March 24, 2023


Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.
/ Categories: Homilies

St. Ephrem, the Syrian

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Before the reform of the lectionary after the Second Vatican Council, the first reading for today's liturgy was used very frequently whenever we observed a feast in honor of a confessor of the faith or a great preacher. Though the current translation speaks of people with insatiable curiosity, the older translation spoke of them as having "itching ears." Back when I was a boy using a daily missal to follow along during Mass, I remember this expression very clearly. It is an interesting way to describe people who always want to hear something new.

I spent a few years as an itinerant preacher, giving retreats and conducting parish missions back in the 1990's. One of the things that I quickly learned from this experience is that the best preaching did not need to be novel. We all need to be reassured, to be reminded of the truths that ground our faith in the Lord Jesus.

Coincidentally, this reading is used on a day when we keep the memory of St. Ephrem, a Syrian deacon. St. Ephrem was a poet, a writer, a teacher, and is honored with the title of Doctor of the Church. His writings still stand today as some of the most important documents from the fourth century. He is also known as the "Harp of the Holy Spirit," a title that he earned by composing hymns through which he taught the faith. He is credited as the first to do this. I am reminded that some of the great Doctors of the Church employed this method centuries later; e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. St. Ephrem is also credited as one of the inspirations of Dante's Divine Comedy.

St. Ephrem is an example of someone who used novel methods to teach the truth without giving in to the temptation to preach novel ideas. His teachings are just as valuable today as they were over 1,600 years ago.

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