The title for today’s Daily Cup comes from the acclamation that the assembly, gathered to elect the new pope in 236 A.D., cried out signifying that Fabian was to be the new bishop of Rome.
Fabian was a total stranger to the assembly gathered that day; in fact he was from a totally different part of Italy. Although a Christian he was not even a candidate for election and there were far more distinguished and illustrious candidates at the election assembly. But a strange event occurred which I am certain shocked everyone present, especially Fabian. Some might say the work of the Holy Spirit, but according to the historian Eusebius, a dove flew over the crowd and lighted on Fabian’s head. The stunned crowd instantly started shouting, “He is worthy! He is worthy!” and Fabian was elected to the episcopate unanimously.
Fabian’s predecessor, Pope Antherus, was pope for only 43 days. He spent his entire episcopate in jail and was believed to have been martyred. By contrast, Fabian spent 14 years as pontiff, and he made numerous administrative reforms that changed the Christian church. He created the parochial structure of the Church in Rome and appointed seven deacons and seven sub-deacons to research and write about the lives of the early church martyrs to memorialize their lives.
Fabian was martyred on January 20, 250 A.D. during the reign of the emperor Decius. He was put to death in what was the first general persecution of the Christian church where simply being a Christian anywhere in the Roman empire was punishable by death. Fabian was one of the first to be martyred after the official decree was announced. A fragment of his tombstone exists in the Crypt of the Popes in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.
In Fabian’s case the work of discerning the Holy Spirit’s presence was fairly easy, at least for those at the assembly in 236. For us today that work of discernment of the presence of the Holy Spirit often seems much more elusive.
At a gathering of the Washington Episcopal Clergy Association (WECA) this week the clergy of the diocese gave some considerable thought to how we all discern the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and work. It was a rich and rewarding conversation and one that brought some new insight into the work of discernment that we all do concerning the presence of God and the Holy Spirit in our midst.
As I look at my own life and experiences of the Holy Spirit, I have most clearly discerned the Holy Spirit’s presence when I notice two things happening, and none of them involve a dove lighting on my head. The first is that I become very clear about the way forward. I have a sudden burst of clarity that was not there previously and that shines a bright light and illuminates the path that I must follow. The second way I discern the work of the Holy Spirit is that I feel some sort of discomfort in the path or way forward that has been revealed or about which I have gained clarity. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit, who stirs up and activates in all of us the divine, is not one to leave us be with a hearty pat on the back and hand us a trophy just for showing up. No, the Holy Spirit demands that we are stretched, that we work outside our “comfort zone.” The work in which the Holy Spirit inhabits causes us to grow, to change, to move beyond ourselves into a new space, a new way of being.
Where are the places in our lives where we have discerned the work of the Holy Spirit? In the upcoming season of Lent let us look with greater attention to discerning where the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our lives, calling us, like Fabian, to greater things than we ever could have imagined possible.
Christ’s Peace and Blessings,
I remember a year ago, preparing to sing with the mass choir for the Diocesan Convention service. Now, I’m preparing to attend the Diocesan Convention as a delegate from St Alban’s. I didn’t see this opportunity coming and I’m working my discernment effort with grace and love.