Not long ago I went to the hospital to see a woman who’s dying. I went there to anoint her. And when I entered the room I said, “Hello, you’re on our hospital list.” But she wasn’t hearing so well and she thought I’d said you’re on our impossible list. She smiled after saying this, but it got me to thinking. Nobody’s on an impossible list, everything is possible with God.
Back in the 3rd century there was a Roman priest by the name of Hippolytus. He was a brilliant theologian with a huge ego. He was a gifted preacher but also one of the least forgiving men the Church has ever known. He caused great harm to the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
In 217, a Roman priest named Callixtus had been elected pope. Callixtus was a man with a past: He had been an embezzler, a brawler, and a convict. But he had repented and reformed his life, and the change was so complete that the majority of the clergy of Rome (who elected the pope at this time) considered Callixtus a worthy successor to St. Peter.
It wasn’t just Callixtus’ past that galled Hippolytus, it was also his policies. Pope Callixtus absolved penitent adulterers and fornicators, and readmitted to the Church heartbroken Christians who, out of fear of torture and death, had renounced their faith and sacrificed to the pagan gods. Hippolytus insisted that such sinners should be cut off forever. He was all justice and no mercy. Priests who took the same hard line met and elected Hippolytus as their pope. Historians call him the anti-pope. He was a rival to the true pope and he led many people away from the Church. He caused a great schism in the Church.
The split dragged on for 19 years. Even after the martyrdom of St. Callixtus, the election and martyrdom of the next pope, Pope St. Urban I and the election of Pope St. Pontian. Through all of this Hippolytus still insisted that he was the true pope.
In 235 Rome got a new emperor, Maximinus. And almost immediately the emperor launched a new persecution of Christians, taking special care to target the leaders of the Church. Pope Pontian and the antipope Hippolytus were both seized in the roundup and deported to the mines in Sardinia. For the sake of the Church, Pontian resigned the papacy so a new pope could be elected. This act of selfless concern for the good of the Church appears to have pricked Hippolytus’ conscience. In Sardinia he repented his schism and begged Pontian to reconcile him to the Church.
Both men died of harsh treatment in the mines. Christians were able to recover their bodies and give them decent burial in the catacombs. To the Christians of Rome, Hippolytus’ repentance and martyrdom wiped his schismatic past, and they venerated him as a saint, along with Pontian and Callixtus.
Why have I told this story? I’ve told it because I think because it’s a story that gives hope, because in the eyes of God nobody is a lost cause. Nobody’s on the impossible list. The Gospel always calls us to repentance. Repentance and conversion are always possible and sometimes they’re even miraculous. An early Christian once commented on this Gospel about the weeds and the wheat by saying, “See the unspeakable love of God for man! He is prompt to bless them and slow
to punish.” This call to repentance is also combined with divine patience. We are given more time to bear fruit. God is patient. The weeds are allowed to live in the field until the harvest. They are given time to repent and time to cease being a weed. There is great hope here.
We have friends, we have family members who maybe aren’t living as close to the Lord as we would like. So like St. Monica we storm Heaven with prayers. We pray for them, we fast for them, and we gently speak the Gospel to them sometimes using words when the right opportunity arises. We can’t force them to accept the Gospel but because our God is so very good and patient there is always hope. And with our rationalizations and stubbornness in not wanting to always follow the narrow way or the good path we need a God who is patient. Because we are all, at one time or another a little weed like. But God lavishes us with his grace waiting for us to produce abundant fruit. Nobody’s on the impossible list.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley