Onomástico Sermon

St Mark tomb

Our first reading at Holy Mass today, from St. Peter’s first letter, ends with, “I send you greetings, as does Mark my son.” Salutat vos Marcus filius meus. These words adorn the sarcophagus of St. Mark, in the high altar of his basilica in Venice.

Inside the stone coffin: the mangled remains of the martyred bishop. St. Peter had sent Mark from Rome to Alexandria, Egypt–at the time, the second-most important city in the Empire. After eight fruitful years there, St. Mark was captured by enemies of the faith, while he was saying Mass. They dragged him through the streets for two days, and he died of his injuries on April 25, AD 68.

Someday I hope to visit my heavenly patron at his uniquely beautiful Venetian tomb. Apparently an angel had appeared to the saint once, when his travels had brought him to Venice. The angel said, “Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.” Maybe the next time I go to Roselawn, I will receive the same message. (That’s the local cemetery here in Martinsville. 🙂 )

Anybody seen the new St. Paul movie? Is St. Mark in it? Maybe not, since St. Paul and St. Mark apparently disliked each other. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that they traveled together briefly, then suddenly separated. There’s a happy ending, though: It seems that they patched things up later. St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, asking that Timothy bring Mark with him to see Paul.

St. Mark and St. Paul had in common that they collaborated with the original Apostles, while they themselves had not lived with Jesus during His pilgrimage on earth. Nor had Paul or Mark seen Him during the forty days after Easter.

If we think about it, that makes their faith even more amazing. Faith in Christ unto a martyr’s death, having embraced Christianity by pure trust in the Church’s nascent Tradition.

In other words, Saints Mark and Paul entered into the Christian mystery like we have entered into it. The Nazarene about Whom we have heard—and thank you St. Mark! for writing down what St. Peter said about Him!—this Nazarene man is worth living and dying for. He is worth spending all our energies on. He is the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, the Incarnate Divine Love.

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Human Means of Divine Communication

St Mark stained glass StA
St. Mark stained-glass window in the St. Andrew’s sanctuary, Roanoke

Today we keep the feast of my heavenly patron, who died 1,949 years ago today.

First reading at Holy Mass comes from the first letter of… St. Peter. He wrote the letter to… “The chosen sojourners of the diaspora” in Asia Minor (now Turkey.) He wrote to them from… “Babylon.” Literally, Babylon? No. In the New Testament, “Babylon” = Rome.

At the end of his letter, St. Peter sent the greetings of his “son”… Mark!

St. Peter, father; St. Mark, son. Not by conjugal generation, but by spiritual relationship. St. Peter accompanied the Lord Jesus through His saving pilgrimage on earth. St. Mark accompanied St. Peter during his time in Rome.

st-peters-sunriseAlso at Mass today, we read the end of St. Mark’s gospel. Lord Jesus entrusted His mission to His Apostles, and He ascended into heaven. A transition took place: Christ passed-over to a realm that we cannot now see. But His work on earth continues apace, through the ministry of those who believe in Him.

Some years later, another transition occurred: the Apostles who had seen and heard Jesus came to the end of their earthly lives. Someone needed to write down their accounts of Christ’s words and deeds. St. Mark wrote down St. Peter’s memories.

We love the New Testament, and the entire Bible. Not because it’s some kind of “magic book.” Reading the Bible gives us communion with God through the perfectly normal means of human communication.

The incarnate divine Son walked the earth, did things, taught stuff, accomplished His mission. People who loved Him saw and heard it. And people who loved those eye-witnesses took the trouble to write it all down for us.

Not magic. But wonderfully real; wonderfully human, and wonderfully divine, all at the same time.

Praise you, Lord, for communicating with us in this way! And thank you, dear St. Mark, for doing your part. May we have the grace to do our part, too.

Trusting Jesus, the gospels, the Church

This weekend in Rome, the newly confirmed young people will make a little pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter, where they will profess together the Creed of the Church.

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter’s tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
I don’t think the young people of our parishes will be able to go.

But the important thing to focus on is: Closeness to God, closeness to the Church, and closeness to St. Peter all go hand-in-hand. If I want to live as a friend of my Maker, I live as a friend of His Church. If I want to live as a friend of God’s Church, I live as a friend of the Apostolic See of Peter.

No one could affirm this connection more convincingly than St. Mark could affirm it.

Mark started life as a devout believer in the one, true God of Israel. Mark grew up with Peter as a kind of unofficial uncle. In our first reading at today’s Mass for the Feast of St. Mark, we hear Peter refer to Mark as a son.

St. Mark wrote down a gospel. Where did he learn all of its contents? From St. Peter. How do we know that? St. Justin Martyr, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Jerome, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, and practically every other early Christian who wrote anything down–they all testify to the fact that St. Mark wrote down what St. Peter preached.

Donatello St. MarkWe have a task, the New Evangelization. Let’s focus on the crucial dimension of trust.

Centuries of disputes have preceded our generation, disputes about God, reason, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. To oversimplify, maybe we could summarize the disputes like this: Protestants have maintained that we can absolutely trust the Bible more than we trust our own minds, and we must absolutely distrust the Pope and the Church. On the other hand, Rationalists have argued that Jesus was a great guy, and there may be a God somewhere, but you can’t trust the Bible or the Church; you can only trust “rational” scientists and historians.

But after all these centuries of argument, the following is actually clearer than ever, to anyone who thoroughly investigates these matters: 1) Faith in God, the loving Father, and faith in Jesus are inseparable. 2) Jesus, the Apostles, St. Peter, and the four canonical gospels are inseparable. 3) The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Pope, and the Church are inseparable.

We do not really have a choice between the one, universal God of love and the God of Jesus, or between Jesus and the Apostles, or between the Bible and the Church, or between reasonableness and religion.

The only real choice we have is between having a life that makes sense, because Jesus makes sense of it for me through His Church, which bears His true, trustworthy Word–or having a life that doesn’t make sense at all.

O holy patron, my father, my lord, St. Mark–friend and son and disciple of St. Peter, who was friend and son and disciple of Christ: Pray for us, that we might trust God, His Son, His Word, and His Church, and trusting, help others to trust, too!

The Sacred Liturgy: Local Yokels and Jesus Christ

Okay. Let’s see who has been paying attention. On Sundays so far this year, we have been reading from the Gospel according to Saint …? Mark. Amen.

True or false: The gospel of Mark is the lengthiest, wordiest, most long-winded gospel.

Amen! False. St. Mark wrote the briefest, tersest, most to-the-point gospel. So brief that it does not take an entire year of Sundays to read it. It doesn’t even take a full eleven months of Sundays.

We have an extra month to work with here. We have the golden opportunity to read one of the most pivotal, one of the most fascinating, one of the most illuminating chapters of the entire Bible. This particular chapter also happens to be wicked long—69 verses.

So today we start reading… John 6! Amen.

All four evangelists recount the Baptism of Christ, and all four narrate Holy Week and Easter. Other than that, there is only one episode in the Lord’s life that all four gospels recount, namely…The Feeding of the 5,000!

Not a co-incidence. The Lord revealed His divine intentions on the hillside that evening. God became man in order miraculously to feed the hungry of every time and place, including us. He did some things which have produced the stunningly wonderful effect of providing us with nourishment for immortality. Let us pause to consider what He did, as the Fathers gathered at the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago paused to consider it:

Continue reading “The Sacred Liturgy: Local Yokels and Jesus Christ”

Whupping Day

summers-asleepSleepy, sleepy. Let me just say that I can relate to this. Who can’t?

…Last night someone put whupping juice in the NBA water bottles:

Celtics by 21.

Mavericks by 21.

Can I get Nowitzness?
Can I get Nowitzness?
Dirk is the man!

And the Jazz beat the Lakers!

…Candles are burning for the Caps

…Tomorrow is the feast day of the kind and gracious saint who has been my patron ever since my dear parents put me under his care at the baptismal font in October, 1970.

He wrote the shortest, most succinct gospel.

He was not one of the original Twelve. His information came from St. Peter.

He is the best patron saint a man could ever ask for.

St. Mark is symbolized by the lion
St. Mark is symbolized by the lion