When we read, or hear, the beginning words of today’s reading from the first letter of John, “Children, it is the last hour!” (1 Jn 2:18) it may seem to us to be hysterical exaggeration, or a form of romantic hyperbole. On the other hand it could be seen as a summing up of the situation of our world in these days. Someone might ask, “is it the last hour?” I think that most of us do not want to think of the events in the past year or two as signs of the end; earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, and Japan; the tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan, typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, wild brush fires in California and Australia, the political upheaval in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the tensions in our own country in these early days of an election year. There have been a number of these “signs”, but most of us don’t want to think of those things as signs of “the last times,” (I’m sure though that there are some people who do think that those things are apocalyptic signs.) The world has been through many similar periods of natural disaster and political, spiritual, and economic tension from almost the earliest times.
Today’s feast in honor of Hilary, 4th Century Bishop of Poitiers in Southwestern France gives us an example of life in a period of particular tensions and the testing of faith.
Hilary lived at the time of the Arian crisis. Theological battles raged over the nature of Jesus Christ; was he truly divine and also truly human, or only like God in some way? It was a time when bishops and theologians were driven into exile over their efforts to defend the truth they had come to see and believe in the Gospel message. Hilary went into exile in Asia Minor for three years during his time as Bishop rather than deny that Jesus Christ was both truly human and truly the divine Son of God, thus he experienced “white martyrdom.” Ultimately the true faith that Hilary stood for prevailed and Arianism was put down.
Hilary was born in about the year 315. His parents were not Christian, but they gave him an excellent education in Latin and Greek. Eventually he learned Hebrew. It was while he was reading Hebrew texts written by Moses (The Pentateuch) that he discovered the Jewish faith in God, the creator of heaven and earth. It was when he went on to read the Fourth Gospel in Greek that he found faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Incarnate Word of God, and he sought baptism. He was baptized around the year 350. Within a few years he was elected Bishop of Poitiers. He died on this date in the year 367.
His life shows us his acknowledging Jesus as Lord as the same faith and loyalty set before us in both of our readings for today. His steadfastness is a good example of one who heeded the warnings about denying Jesus (1 Jn 2:22-23, Lk. 12:9). In him we see one whose faith in the Holy Spirit gave him what to say and what to write in defense of the true faith for his generation (Lk. 12:12). Hilary, remaining firm in his faith in Jesus as Son of God, fully human and fully divine, became a shining example for the Christians of his time and still is for us in our time.
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