(for the Feast of St. Bartholomew)
The Holy Apostles acted with such great courage that they seem superhuman.
Among the Apostles, we know St. Paul the most intimately, since so many of his writings have been passed down to us. We know the details of how he willingly suffered every possible hardship for the sake of expanding the kingdom of Christ.
St. Paul nearly starved; he nearly drowned; was repeatedly imprisoned, flogged, beaten within an inch of his life. He patiently endured painful mistreatment of every kind—the willful misunderstanding of his motives by people he had helped, betrayal by people he loved, the unfair judgment of countless supposed allies. In the end, he willingly bent his neck under the executioner’s axe, rather than deny Christ.
All the Apostles acted with similarly astonishing zeal and dedication. The Church expanded from a small band of dreamers, apparently beaten in an obscure Roman province, to a unified worldwide organization.
In other words, a great miracle of social development occurred. And at the heart of this miracle lies the Apostles’ superhuman zeal. Where did it come from?
“Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” (John 1:50)
The ancient prophets had declared that, when the Messiah came, all the children of Israel would be able to sit and rest in the shade of a fig tree. The oppression and cruelty of their enemies would end. Everyone would live in peace, a good wholesome life, as if the Garden of Eden had been restored.
“You will see greater things than this. You will see heaven opened.”
The Apostles trudged the earth as human beings, like we do. They did not arise from a race other than our own. They sneezed and got thirsty and needed friends, just like we do.
Christ had promised them more than a fig tree, more than 40 acres and a mule, more than the American Dream. He had promised them thrones in the heavenly Jerusalem. He had shown them the face of God.
The miracle of the Apostles’ zeal proceeded from one fact. And we, too, can share in it, because we have been promised the same thing. The fact is this: The Apostles focused themselves completely on the goal. The Apostles lived for heaven.
The certain hope for heaven made it all—the beatings, the contempt, the hardships, the agonizing martyrdoms—it made it all seem like a day in the office.
To be a Christian means that being flayed alive and then crucified, like St. Bartholomew—a Christian can take such things in stride. Heaven awaits.