Monday, July 26, 2021

Feast of St. Christopher, Martyr

According to the official calendar, yesterday was the feast of St. James the Apostle, brother of John and member of the Inner Circle of the Twelve (it was transferred to Monday due to yesterday being a Sunday). However, I was once the Rector of Parroquia San Cristóbal, the Parish of St. Christopher, and today is also the feast of St. Christopher, martyr. When I first came to San Cristóbal, I figured that we were named after a non-existent saint. In the Roman tradition, St. Christopher was very tall, very strong Roman man, originally named Offero, who became a Christian and vowed to serve Jesus. He sought out a holy hermit, who told him that he could best serve Jesus by helping people cross the river, which as very swift and dangerous. Offero started carrying people across the river on his back. One day a small child came to be carried across the river. While crossing the river, Offero noticed that this passenger was heavier than anyone he had ever carried, which didn't make any sense since he was a little child. The child revealed that he was actually Jesus, the Christ, and his heaviness was due to carrying the sins of the world. Jesus then baptized Offero and named him Christopher. It's an easy story to discount.

I started wondering if there were any Greek sources regarding Saint Christopher, and I did some research. I learned that a Saint Christopher actually did exist, that he was a soldier who was martyred around the year 308 in Antioch. I even found three “Acts of St. Christopher” and read them. I no longer believe that my parish is named after a non-existent saint, we are a parish named after a fourth-century African martyr.



St. Christopher was a member of the north African tribe of the Marmaritae. He was captured by Roman forces during the emperor Diocletian's campaign against the Marmaritae in late 301/early 302 and was transported for service in a Roman garrison in or near Antioch in Syria. He was baptized by the refugee bishop Peter of Alexandria and was martyred on 9 July 308.
Bishop Peter arranged for the transport of his remains back to Marmarica in 311. The name “Christopher” means Bearer of Christ and was probably the name he took on at baptism. According to the various Acts of St. Christopher, his original name was Reprebus which is probably a corruption of the name Reprobus, which means “wicked” in Latin. So at baptism, a man called wicked became a man who bears Christ. But ‘Christopher’ may have been an honorific title, and some scholars believe that Christopher’s actual name may have been lost and that he is really identifiable with the Egyptian martyr known as St. Menas. Christopher was martyred for refusing to sacrifice to the emperor. His memory was preserved in Antioch, but his relics were transported to his homeland and that is where is original cult was located. There are icons of St. Christopher and they are not like the image on the Roman Catholic medals. The images of St. Christopher I've posted here are of a man with the head of a dog! The Greeks used to refer to those lands outside of their civilization as being inhabited by cannibals and dog-headed people, and since Christopher was from North Africa, most probably the nation we call Libya today, some must have said he came from the land of dog-headed cannibals. The authors of the Acts of St. Christopher took this reference literally, and one account carries this description: There was a certain man who, since he was a foreigner from the land of man-eaters, had a terrible appearance, a dog's head as it were. Another account describes Christopher’s encounter a woman on the street: And while he prayed, a woman came out of the city in order to go and worship the idols, and trembled at the sight of the saint. Her face dropped as she saw the the body of a man, but the head of a dog, and she ran to the city and cried out... In this account, the king calls Christopher “Dog-headed and evil troublemaker.”

According to the Acts of St. Christopher, he was taken as a soldier from his home in North Africa and ended up in the Syrian city of Antioch. A persecution was under way, and the soldier Reprebus had recently converted and become Christopher. He was protecting some Christians who were being arrested. He covered his dog-head with the sleeves of his cloak and while being beaten by the arresting officer, said, “I am possessed by Christ, I have been overcome by the Savior, and I am not able to do anything to you. However, if you exasperate my heart, you will not remain in my presence, nor will your corrupt king." The soldier ran off and told the king what had happened: "There is a certain man of terrible appearance, one who towers over most men, who appeared in sight of all the people when the edict was being published by the governor. In fact, who could explain the appearance of this apparition, except perhaps that the God of the Christians heard their prayers and sent him to help them? Unless you hurry and kill him he will turn all from the sacrifices of the gods." The king said to him, "You have a demon, and he appeared to you this way. What did you see? Speak." He replied, "I tell my lord what I saw. His head was terrifying, like that of a dog. His hair was very long, and gleamed like gold. His eyes were like the morning star, and his teeth like the tusks of a boar. Words are not sufficient to tell of his greatness. Moreover, he said the most disgraceful things against you and the gods. So when I heard such talk, I began to beat him. But he said to me, 'I am possessed by Christ, but if I were not, I would kill you and your king.' And I therefore report these things to you my lord king, that you might know that what I say about this man is true." The king said, "Is he one of our men? Why does he say such things?" The other replied, "I do not know, my lord." Then the king gave orders to his soldiers, saying, "Go and get him. If he does not agree to come with you, rip him to pieces, only bring his head to me that I might see what he was like, if it was him or another."



In the meantime, Christopher managed to convert most of the soldiers, who refused to arrest him, but he was eventually taken before the king. He refused to sacrifice to the King’s idols. The king had a great idea in which Christopher would be locked in a room with two prostitutes who would “convert him to their lusts” but instead Christopher converted them to the Lord and they went to suffer their martyrdom after insulting the king and his idols.

The story of their martyrdom is right up there with Perpetua and Felicity in the terrible tortures they endured in Christ’s name. The king was quite angry that his plan didn’t work, so he had a bronze bench placed in the town square and had Christopher nailed to the bench. Then he ordered that plenty of wood be brought, and that a great deal of olive nuts,18 measures of olive oil, and a lot of pitch be poured over the wood, that was how they fueled the fire. The wind blew the flames so that some houses caught fire, Christopher stood up in the midst of the flames and said, “I saw myself standing in the midst of a city, and saw a beautiful man whose face shone like a thousand suns. Then another man with a terrible appearance attacked him. They fought, but the man of light was victorious.” Then ten thousand people watching this said, “There is one God, he in whom saint Christopher believes. He has certainly not labored in vain. He knows the one to whom he fled. And we believe, hoping that we can save ourselves through you, Lord God." And ten thousand people believed at the same time, and cried out, saying, "Almighty God, we believe in you. Take pity on us, Our Savior, and make us your worthy servants, Christ, and do not give us wealth for your booty; but give to your servants, Lord, the bath of immortality and the garment of incorruption, because yours is the glory forever and ever, amen." The next morning Christopher and the ten thousand stood out where the fires had been and chanted psalms, attracting the king’s troops once again. Three priests appeared and baptized the newly converted, while Christopher was arrested. His hair was pulled, he was crushed with huge stones and then dragged about by his arms throughout the streets. Christopher still refused to recant, so the king commanded that he be beheaded and cremated. Christopher was taken to the site where he would be executed. Suddenly there was an earthquake, and Christopher saw the heavens open and the Lord appear. A throne was brought out and the Lord sat on the throne. Christopher said, "How, in word or thought, will I praise you, Lord, that you have deigned to reveal your glory to me your humble servant?" The Lord said to him, "You are more blessed than many, and will be called my most beloved servant, and blessed will those souls be who have merited possession of your relics. I shall heed no longer the sins of those who have approached me through your intercession. I swear by my glory to you that they shall attain paradise." Christopher replied, "If I have found favor in your sight, Lord my God, grant me the confidence to speak to you." The Lord responded, "Say what you will." The saint replied, saying, "Lord, grant my corpse this second favor, that all who possess a part of my relics will merit such grace that no evil spirit nor bodily sickness will cower them, and drive from them every evil desire. Lord my God, whether it be a city, larger area, or small locality where lies some of my relics, let not hail-shower, crop-disease or vine-sterility prevail there; but wherever my relics travel, if those regions have been harmed, grant them the grace of my presence as it were, Lord my God, so that all the inhabitants of those regions may richly receive the produce of their cultivation, and filled with your grace wholeheartedly glorify your holy name. Act thus, Lord my God." As you can see, he was really thinking ahead! And the Lord replied, "It will be as you request. I will not cause you sadness. And so you have come, ascend to your brothers. For they all wonder at you, and my army of angels desires to see you." And when he had said this, he departed, and went to the place which had been prepared and said to the executioner, "Come, son, do what has been commanded. But I adjure you, by the God who watches over earth's orb, not to judge me." And upon saying these things, he crossed himself, and bending his knees he stretched out his neck; and in this manner his head was cut off. He perfected his martyrdom on a Sunday, at the 7th hour.


Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” and while I have trouble believing that ten thousand people were converted even before he was martyred, the fact that the martyrdom of Christopher was remembered tells me that his witness was important to the Christians of Antioch. His relics were returned to his homeland, and a church was named after him in Bythinia in 452.

I always find the stories of the martyrs to be inspiring, and their steadfast faith is a model for all of us. Even though the Acts of St. Christopher are full of stories just as strange as the Roman story of Christopher, we can put away the image of a giant carrying the Christ child, but instead of replacing that image with the "dog-headed" saint, we can replace it with the story of a martyr from North Africa who stood up against his persecutors and prayed that he could still do good for humanity even after his death. This St. Christopher is one who can be a model for us.

UPDATE Last year, JCF, a Dance Party regular, commented that he had read an account which said that St. Christopher was so beautiful that everyone who looked at him was smitten or overcome with lust, so St. Christopher asked God to give him a dog's head to stop all that lustin'. I like that story.

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Christopher boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Feast of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Today is the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles, a saint whose memory has been much maligned over the millennia by misogynist clergy like Pope Gregory the Great.

Mary of Magdala has become a popular Biblical figure once again, due to the popularity of the piece of junk I should've written and made a million on novel The DaVinci Code. She was a popular figure in the early days of Christianity, too, for different reasons, and some Gnostic groups claimed that she was the leader of the Church rather than James or Peter. We do know that she was one of the women who followed Jesus. According to Luke’s Gospel: And it so happened soon afterward that he traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God’s imperial rule. The twelve were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave...

For some reason, possibly misogynist or because he felt threatened by the ministry of women, Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdala as the "reformed sinner" or former prostitute in a sermon, and this image has remained in popular imagination. Some mistake her for Mary of Bethany and she has been identified with the woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, but that is not what the scriptures say. According to the scriptures she was healed by Jesus and followed him; she was at the foot of the cross (according to the gospel attributed to John), and she was one of the first to see the empty tomb and the Resurrected Jesus. The story of her weeping at the tomb, her accusations to the one she thinks is the gardener, and then her sheer joy at the realization that she is talking to Jesus is one of the most touching and inspiring of the Resurrection stories.

A heretical-Gnostic understanding of Mary’s place among the Twelve is an important aspect of The DaVinci Code, and it is based on the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, as well as the terrible Life of Mary Magdalen in the Legenda Aurea, a thirteenth-century document by Jacopo di Voragine. According to the Legenda Aurea, Mary was named after a fortress, Magdalum. She and her siblings, Lazarus and Martha, were or noble birth, the children of Syrus and Eucharia. The family was very wealthy, and their riches were distributed amongst their three children: Mary owned the Castle Magdalum, Lazarus received a part of Jerusalem, and Martha received the village of Bethany. Mary became a woman of the streets (?!), Lazarus a knight (!?), and Martha took care of the the possessions of both Mary and Lazarus "with great prudence." So, Mary, whose love of wealth and pleasure had led her to lead a most dissolute life and be known as "a sinner," wandered into Simon the Leper's house while Jesus was visiting and preaching. She walked up to Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them. Simon protested, Jesus defended her action and forgave her sins. After the Lord was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, Mary traveled with St. Maximus, under the orders of St. Peter. She and Lazarus and Martha and Maximus traveled as missionaries for a while. Eventually Mary decided to retire to the Forest: Mary Magdalene desired meditation and went into the forest wilderness where she lived incognito for thirty years in a place prepared for her by the hands of angels. In this place there were neither fountains nor trees nor grass. This indicates that our Lord did not want to sustain her with earthly food but with heavenly nourishment. Every day she was led to the heavens by the angels—seven times for the seven hours of prayer—and with her own ears she heard the chants of the heavenly hosts. And every day she was taken back to earth with this sweet nourishment so that she never needed earthly food. After thirty years of living on "spiritual nourishment", she died and was buried in Aix, in Southern France, by Bishop Maximus.

There are several verses in the Gospel of Philip which claim that Mary Magdala was the mate of Jesus, that they were man and wife, and that they were also united spirits and had to marry for some cosmic reason. That Jesus and Mary were married is also the basis of a book titled Holy Blood, Holy Grail which was on the New York Time’s Best Seller list a few years ago, along with The DaVinci Code. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, ("historians" who chucked the historic method out the window for this book) claim that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdala, pregnant with Jesus’ child, left Palestine for Gaul, and that the royal family of France are the descendants of Jesus. Now, I don’t have any problem with the idea that Jesus may have been married, and I have no problem with the idea that he could have been married to Mary of Magdala; I have no theological opposition to the idea, but the idea that the Royal Family of France, or the Royal Family of any country is descended from Jesus is something with which I have a lot of trouble! I don't believe that the Emperor of Japan is descended from the Sun Goddess, either.

There is a non-canonical book called the Gospel of Mary, and it claims that Mary Magdala was a leader of the early church, and I’m sure that she was a leader, but I don’t think that Jesus loved her more than the others, as is claimed in that gospel. Mary of Magdala is regarded as the equal of an Apostle in the Eastern Church, and I think that this makes sense as she was the first person to witness the Resurrected Jesus. As far as the DaVinci Code’s claim that she was the “personification of the Divine Feminine” in the earliest days of Christianity, I must disagree, as the Divine Feminine is manifested in Sofia, or Wisdom, also a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a poem about Our Mary of Magdala written by Christine Schenk, CSJ.

Mary of Magdala
What say you, Magdalen?
Fellow traveler, Jesus' friend,
Courageous companion
Who accompanies
Death's bitter-shroud end.
No prostitute you,
A Woman Jew
And Apostle.
Denigrated, despised
by jealousy, fear, and more.
Betrayed by your brothers,
whose spin control
requires you go from
WomanWitness to Whore.
And besides, it would still be alright.
(Unlike many a man-creature,
you well understand the
odd God ways of the Teacher).
Did you blame yourself, my sister,
for their failure to comprehend
All of Love's bold claims
for
Newborn Jesus-Way ?
Mary, WomanWitness, WomanFriend,
What have you to say?
Only

"Rabbo'ni!"

Christ comes again.
Amen, Alleluia, Amen.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Feast of the Ascension

Hey, guys, it's kinda crowded up here!

In Which Padre Mickey Rambles On And On About The Ascension

Ascension Day is an interesting event to celebrate, and I will admit that this is a feast which carries some complications for a scientific minded, late twentieth-early twenty-first century North American like myself. We have a different understanding of the universe than did the original audience of the story of the Ascension. Many people in that part of the world believed in what we call a three tiered universe: there was the underworld, then our world, then the heavens. They believed that the ground separated the underworld and this world, and that something similar to a large curtain separated this world from the heavens. This curtain had little holes in it, and God’s glory shone through those holes, and that is what we call the stars. In a three tiered universe, certain beings were capable of moving between the three worlds. Greek mythology was full of stories of heroes who visited the underworld, and in our Nicene Creed we say that Jesus "descended into hell." The Church also teaches that he "ascended into heaven." The story of the Ascension appears in the three synoptic gospels, and in the second part of Luke’s work, the Acts of the Apostles. In John’s gospel the Ascension happens of the day of Resurrection and apparently there were no witnesses to the event. Now, when you read Luke’s two versions of this event, and the versions in the other gospels, for that matter, one is led to believe that Jesus floated up in the sky until he got to heaven. In a three tiered universe such a thing is possible, as one simply passes through that curtain which separates the two worlds and one will be at the Throne of the Father in no time. We, however, live in a different time; most of us remember the trips to the moon made by the astronauts of the 1970’s. We live in a time in which the sky is filled with satellites which make it possible for us to communicate with the other side of the planet in seconds. We live in a time when we have seen photographs of the planet taken from outer space. We live in the time of the Hubbell Telescope which has enabled us to see far across "the vast expanse of interstellar space." This knowledge of the universe, and this perspective of the universe, makes it difficult for many of us to think of Jesus as floating up to heaven; I imagine him rising up and up and up and up past the moon, past the asteroid belt, past Jupiter and the large planets, past our solar system, past the galaxies; I guess he would just keep rising and rising forever!!! But fortunately, that is not what Ascension Day is about. If the Ascension is not about Jesus floating up to heaven, what is it about? It has to do with several theological points, it has to do with the theology of the Holy Trinity. The Ascension is the moment when Jesus, the Son, the Redeemer, the Second Person of the Trinity, came into the presence of the Father, the Creator, the First Person of the Trinity. This is the moment when the Son came into the presence of the Father because he had accomplished the task given to him by the Creator. The theology of the Ascension has been an important part of Jesus’ story from the very beginning of the Church. It has always been an important part of the Christology of the Church. The theology of the Ascension has been an important aspect of Christology from the earliest days of the Church for several reasons. The first reason is that the Ascension represents the culmination of the earthly mission of Jesus. His death and resurrection could not have their full effect until Jesus ascended to the presence of the Father, to whom he presented his finished work of atonement. We teach that Jesus had two natures, that he was fully human and fully divine, and it was at this moment that the humanity of Jesus was taken up to God and glorified. This aspect of the Ascension, this aspect of the Resurrection, was very important to the early Christians, and St. Paul speaks of it several times in his letters to the Christians around the Mediterranean. The Ascension is also important because it tells us that the earthly body of Jesus is no longer present within time and space. The earthly body of Jesus now belongs to the Son of God in eternity, that is why the stories have him floating up into the heavens, so that there was no question of Jesus’ body being left behind, otherwise people might say that he wasn’t resurrected, he was revived somehow and then died later. Some people actually do make such a claim; there is a tomb in Japan and a tomb in Pakistan which are supposed to hold the body of Jesus.

The Resurrected and Ascended Jesus is not present to us in the way he was present to the disciples. We now seek the presence of Jesus within our gathering, because he told us that when two or three are gathered in his name, he is in our midst. We now seek his presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, where he is present in the sharing of the bread and wine. We now seek his presence in the faces of the poor, in the faces of those we meet and in the faces of those we love. The Ascension is a theological event, not what we would consider an historical event.

Another important aspect of the Ascension is that the Son had to come into the presence of the Father so that the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, could be sent to us. Jesus promised that after he ascended to the Father, he would send the Comforter, the Advocate, but the Holy Spirit could not come to do its work among us until the Son had ascended to the Father. And because the Holy Spirit has come among us, we are now able to do what Jesus has commanded us to do. The Holy Spirit helps us to love one another as Christ loves us, to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind, and to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. So instead of celebrating Jesus floating up to heaven, let us prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

St. Monica, Mother of Augustine

It's Padre Mickey's St. Monnica sermon



O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Monnica, an African Christian woman of the fourth century. She was the mother of St. Augustine, the great African Bishop, theologian, and heretic fighter. Her story is a good one, about a mother's love for her son, of her faith in God and her trust that her wild boy would return to the Lord. When St. Augustine first published his autobiographical Confessions the story he told of Monnica's faithfulness has been considered an inspiring tale of God's faithfulness in answering the prayer of his children.

Monnica was born in the year 332 in Tagaste, North Africa, in the area we now call the nation of Algeria. She was born into a reasonably well-off Christian family. She was known for having a strong will, and there is a story from her childhood which illustrates this will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. Pretty soon she was sneaking more than sips, she was taking deep, long, drinks of wine while in the cellar. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a drunk, as a wine-bibber, and Monnica, covered with shame, stopped drinking any wine. (I have no idea if there were 12 steps up from the cellar). Not long after this episode she was baptized, and from all accounts lived a life of virtue from then on. Once Monnica reached marriageable age her parents arranged a marriage with a pagan named Patricius. Patricius had a violent temper and was also known to be a "man of dissolute habits." He did not approve of Monnica's faith, and his mother joined his in mocking her for praying and especially for giving alms and caring for the poor. She kept the traditions of the African church which were considered superstitious by many; she kept the Sabbath, or Saturday, as the Lord's Day, and she visited the graves of martyrs with food and drink. These activities drove her husband and mother-in-law crazy! It was not a happy marriage nor, with Patricius' temper, a happy household, but due to Monnica's patience and sweet disposition Patricius did begin to come around and eventually to revere and respect her. Monnica was not the only woman in such a situation, and many of the other women of Tagaste in similar situations held her in reverence and respected her words.

Monnica gave birth to three children: Augustine, the eldest, a second son named Navigius, and a daughter, Perpetua. Because of Patricius' disapproval of her faith, Monnica was unable to have her children baptized as babies, and she was distraught and frightened when young Augustine fell ill. She begged Patricius to let her have Augustine baptized, and he agreed, but then withdrew his consent when Augustine survived the illness. After this all of Monnica's anxiety seemed to rest upon Augustine, but her patience paid off when Patricius was baptized a year later. Of Monnica's three children, Augustine was the trouble maker. Navigius seems to have been an exemplary son, and Perpetua became a religious. Augustine, the most intelligent of the three, was sent to Carthage to become educated and to become a man of culture. Augustine enjoyed studying and was a good student, although he also admitted that he was somewhat lazy, but he also spent a lot of time carousing and drinking and even took a mistress or concubine. At the age of nineteen, much to his mother's horror, he rejected the Christianity of his mother and embraced Manichaeism, a group which historian Peter Brown called "the Bolsheviks of the fourth century." He returned home for some holiday break and, like college students have done for centuries, spent his time upsetting his parents espousing his new-found ideas (he probably brought a semester's worth of dirty laundry with him, too). Monnica became so upset at Augustine's defense of the teachings of Mani that one night she evicted him from the table (Go sit in the car, Auggie!). He was not welcome at home after that until Monnica had a vision which changed her mind. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She told the stranger about her problem child; the mysterious figure told her to dry her tears, then she heard the words, "Your son is with you." Monnica told Augustine this story, and he replied that since it was her faith which kept them apart, she should give up Christianity. Quickly she retorted, "He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me." Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. It was another nine years before Augustine would be converted, but Monnica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, "God's time will come." Monnica persisted in begging him for his help, and the bishop said: "Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

When Augustine was twenty-nine years of age, he decided to move to Rome with his "wife" and son. Monnica was against the move, mostly because she thought he would never be converted if he lived in Rome, but she followed him and his family to the seaport and was planning to go to Rome with them. Once Augustine realized that she was planning to come with them, he told her that he wasn't leaving that day; he was waiting until the winds were right so that a friend of his could sail with them. He talked Monnica into spending the night in a shrine dedicated to St. Cyprian, and, that evening, while she was praying for him, he and his family set sail for Rome. Of course, Monnica was very upset the next morning when she learned that Augustine had given her the slip, but she didn't let it stop her, and she set sail on the next ship for Rome. The ship she took was caught in a storm, and the passengers were sure that they would die at sea, but Monnica's serene confidence in God and God's mercy cheered the passengers and they arrived in Rome safely. Once Monnica arrived in Rome she learned that Augustine had settled in Milan. While in Milan he came under the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and had given up Manichaeism, but he wasn't a Christian yet. He had been experiencing major doubts, especially after spending time with Faustus, one of the shining lights of the Manichees, whom Augustine found less than inspiring. Monnica became a good friend of Ambrose, and, just as had been the case in Africa, she was foremost among women in her charity and her devotion to God. Bishop Ambrose was able to persuade her to give up some of the practices of the African church, especially that of visiting the graves of martyrs with food and wine. Under the influence of Ambrose, and in answer to Monnica's prayer, but most of all because of the grace of God, Augustine was converted and was baptized by Ambrose at the church of St. John the Baptist in Milan at the Easter Vigil of the year 387. Upon his conversion, he decided to end his relationship with his mistress, and Monnica was hoping to find an "appropriate" wife for Augustine, but upon the return of his mistress to Africa, he informed Monnica that he would adopt the celibate life and would devote himself to God's service.

Augustine had formed a small group of friends who were planning to adopt the religious life, and he and his mother and his friends decided to return to Tagaste. They spent some time at the seaport in Ostia, preparing to continue across the waters to Africa, when Monnica took ill. When Augustine and his brother realized that she would probably die, they were worried about burying her far from home. Augustine writes: I heard afterwards, too, that at the time we were at Ostia, with a maternal confidence she one day, when I was absent, was speaking with certain of my friends on the contemning of this life, and the blessing of death; and when they—amazed at the courage which You had given to her, a woman—asked her whether she did not dread leaving her body at such a distance from her own city, she replied, "Nothing is far to God; nor need I fear lest He should be ignorant at the end of the world of the place whence He is to raise me up." On the ninth day, then, of her sickness, the fifty-sixth year of her age, and the thirty-third of mine, was that religious and devout soul set free from the body.

One of the propers for today has this passage from John's Gospel, in which Jesus said, "You will grieve but your grief will turn to joy. A woman suffers pain when she gives birth because the time has come. When her child is born, in her joy she no longer remembers her labor because a human being has come into the world. . . I swear to God, if you ask the Father for anything using my name, he will grant it to you."
Monnica loved the Lord and she loved her children, and she especially loved Augustine and prayed for him. She prayed that he would give up his wild ways and return to the Lord. She did not desert her son but continued praying for him and the Lord answered her prayers. Monnica was happy because her son had accepted the Lord, but we can all be happy because the Christian Church received a great Doctor of the Church, a great Saint of Africa whose faith influences us to this day. Monnica's faithfulness gave the Church the blessing of Augustine, and the blessing of her faithful witness.
And that is why we remember her today.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (transferred)


Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings forth good tidings of good, who published salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Mark the Evangelist brought good tidings which continue to change lives. In the NRSV the
ευανγγελιον Μαρκον opens "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus, Christ, the Son of God" while other English language versions use the English word "Gospel" in place of "Good News." From this beginning all other stories of Jesus' life were called Gospels. The gospel attributed to Mark is the earliest of the canonical gospels.

As is usually the case with these early saints, especially the Apostles and Evangelists, we know very little about St. Mark. According to St. Paul's letters and the earliest accounts taken from the bishops Papias, Hippolytus, and Eusebius, John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. He actually set out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but tuned back for some reason. Paul was so upset with Mark's leaving that he wouldn't let him accompany them on another journey, and the disagreement became so sharp that Barnabas left Paul to go with his cousin Mark. The breach between Mark and Paul was healed later, and Mark spent some time with Paul in Rome, where he also spent time with Peter (another person who aggravated Paul). According to tradition, Peter's recollections of his life with Jesus were the basis for Mark's gospel. There is another tradition that Mark was the young man who lost his sheet at Jesus' arrest and ran off naked.

According to tradition, St. Peter sent Mark from Rome to preach the Good News in the areas around the Adriatic. Every where he went he established Christian communities which became churches. St. Peter then consecrated Mark a bishop and sent him to Egypt. After spending some time visiting the coastal cities of Pentapolis, preaching and baptizing and setting up churches, the Holy Spirit led Mark to the city of Alexandria, a very intellectual city, a city with the largest library in the Greco-Roman world. He started several churches in Alexandria and established a catechetical school. This school produced folks like Clement, Dionysius, and Gregory the Wonderworker. My hero, Origen, taught at that school. Many in authority were unhappy with the spread of Christianity in that city, and set out to murder Mark. He heard about the plot and ordained Anianus bishop, then took-off for Pentapolis again. He strengthened the churches he started there and then traveled throughout Northern Africa, bringing the Good News of forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God to remote parts of Libya and Ammonicia.

The gospel attributed to Mark is my favorite gospel. Many people are very fond of the mysticism of the Gospel of John, or they love Luke's gospel with its angel visitations, or Matthew's use of Hebrew scripture and exegesis, but I love Mark, and not because it's the shortest gospel! Mark gets right to the point: "This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus, Christ, the Son of God." He starts with John the Baptizer preparing the way of the Lord, he moves on to Jesus' baptism and the start of his ministry. In just a few verses he has Jesus calling disciples and healing the sick, casting out demons and proclaiming the coming of the Reign of God. Mark doesn't need angel visitations to prove that Jesus has a divine nature, and he doesn't need the visit of the Magi to prove that Jesus is a king; for Mark, Jesus is both human and divine because he is the Messiah. Jesus performs miracles of healing throughout Mark's story. Jesus turns everything upside down in Mark's gospel but whenever someone realizes Jesus' true nature, he tells them to keep quiet; this is called the "Marcan Secret." Even though Jesus' miracles showed that he was the Messiah, no one was to say it aloud because Jesus' arrest, death and resurrection would prove that he was the Messiah. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus heals the sick as a sign of the Reign of God, he casts out demons as a sign of the Reign of God, he eats and drinks with sinners and outcasts and proclaims forgiveness of sins as a sign of the Reign of God. Jesus defeats death and rises from the dead as a sign of the Reign of God.

Seeing the Resurrected Christ transformed the lives of the disciples, the life of James, Jesus' brother, and the lives of all who saw him. The witness of these people and the story they told transformed the lives of all who heard it and believed. If Mark was the guy who lost his sheet, he was one of Jesus' early followers and he may have been one of the five hundred who saw the Resurrected Christ at one time. We know that his life was transformed and that he was willing to travel to the Adriatic and Northern Africa to tell the story of Jesus. Mark's life was changed by the Resurrected Christ and he, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote an account which allows people to meet the Resurrected Jesus to this day. Mark's witness, though his gospel, continues to help transform lives, and his account even helped inspire Matthew and Luke, so the glad tidings he brought were passed on to others through the works of the other Evangelists. Mark wasn't writing an historical document as we in our era understand history; he was writing the Good News of Jesus, Christ, the Son of God. He was writing an account of salvation, not an historically accurate, day-by-day reporting of the life and activities of Jesus. St. Mark was telling the people of his time and in the times to come the story of how God intervened in history, how the Creator of the universe decided to come among the creation and bring it hope, renewal, and the defeat of death. Mark wanted to tell the story of how God became a human being, lived and laughed and loved and suffered among us, ultimately suffering death as a common criminal, yet rose again and changed the lives of those who believed.

Here is an account of the martyrdom of St. Mark, adapted from the Menology of St. Dimitri of Rostov:
"The approaching celebration of Pascha coincided that year with the festival of the pagan god Serapis, drawing scores of idol-worshippers to the city. As St. Mark was celebrating the divine service, a mob of pagans broke into the church and seized their prey. The holy Apostle was bound with a rope and dragged through the streets of the city, as his captors shouted mockingly, 'We're taking the ox to the stall!' He was thrown into prison, his body lacerated by the sharp stones over which he had been mercilessly dragged. That night an angel strengthened him for his final trial. 'Slave of God, Mark, thy name is written in heaven in the Book of Life. Thou hast been numbered among the holy apostles, and thou wilt be remembered unto ages of ages. Thou wilt rejoice with the powers on high, and on earth thy precious relics will be preserved.' Then the Lord Himself appeared and said to the Saint: 'Peace to thee, Mark, My evangelist.'

In the morning the Saint, a rope tied around his neck, was again led through the streets like some dumb beast, accompanied by a great crowd of jeering pagans. Utterly spent, the meek sufferer eventually collapsed and his soul, released from its earthly tabernacle, ascended to heaven. The pagans, not content with having killed the Saint, wanted to destroy also his lifeless body, but they had scarcely lit the bonfire that was to have consumed the body before there was a mammoth thunderclap; the earth shook and the sky loosed a storm of hailstones. The fire was quenched and the pagans dispersed, allowing the Christians to come and collect the sacred remains of their martyred bishop and father in the Faith. These they placed in a stone coffin in the place where they gathered for common prayer."

As Christians, we still meet the Resurrected Christ, and the Resurrected Christ still transforms lives. And we are able to do this because God the Holy Spirit inspired this young Jew, John Mark, to write down the remembrances of St. Peter. Because Mark wrote down the story of the women's visit to the tomb, because he wrote down the stories of Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and proclaiming the Good News, people are open their lives being transformed by the Resurrected Christ. Mark was a martyr, a witness, and the gospel which bears his name has witnessed to people throughout the centuries.

From Rome St. Mark was sent by St. Peter to preach the Gospel in those regions bordering the Adriatic.  His ministry was fruitful; everywhere churches were established. St. Peter then appointed Mark bishop and sent him to Egypt.

After sojourning for a time in the coastal cities of Pentapolis, and bringing many there out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of faith, the Evangelist was led by the Holy Spirit to sail east to Alexandria.  As he reached the city gates, one of his sandals broke.  A cobbler, in trying to fix it, punctured his hand with his awl.  St. Mark made a paste of some earth mixed with his spittle and applied it to the bleeding wound with the words, "In the name of Jesus Christ Who lives forever, be thou whole!"  Immediately the blood stanched and the wound closed. The grateful cobbler insisted on inviting St. Mark to his home, where he questioned him closely: "Who are you and what is your business, and who is this Jesus Christ?"  St. Mark proceeded to expound the gospel, which so impressed the cobbler that he and his household asked straightway to be baptized. The Apostle took this as an auspicious sign, and he was not mistaken.

There in Alexandria St. Mark established a catechetical school which produced many great apologists for the Faith: Clement, Dionysius (of Alexandria), Gregory the Wonderworker, and others.

The pagan leaders, infuriated by the progressive spread of Christianity in their domain, conspired to kill St. Mark.   On learning of their evil resolve, the Apostle ordained Anianus bishop and fled to Pentapolis.  He strengthened the Church he had established there earlier and brought the Gospel to more remote parts of Libya and to Ammonicia.

Returning to Egypt, St. Mark continued his apostolic labors, rejoicing in spirit at the abundant harvest of souls.   At last, however, the pagan leaders, bitterly resenting his authority, found opportunity to kill him.

The approaching celebration of Pascha coincided that year with the festival of the pagan god Serapis, drawing scores of idol-worshippers to the city.  As St. Mark was celebrating the divine service, a mob of pagans broke into the church and seized their prey.   The holy Apostle was bound with a rope and dragged through the streets of the city, as his captors shouted mockingly, "We're taking the ox to the stall!"  He was thrown into prison, his body lacerated by the sharp stones over which he had been mercilessly dragged.  That night an angel strengthened him for his final trial. "Slave of God, Mark, thy name is written in heaven in the Book of Life.  Thou hast been numbered among the holy apostles, and thou wilt be remembered unto ages of ages.  Thou wilt rejoice with the powers on high, and on earth thy precious relics will be preserved." Then the Lord Himself appeared and said to the Saint: "Peace to thee, Mark, My evangelist."

In the morning the Saint, a rope tied around his neck, was again led through the streets like some dumb beast, accompanied by a great crowd of jeering pagans.  Utterly spent, the meek sufferer eventually collapsed and his soul, released from its earthly tabernacle, ascended to heaven.  The pagans, not content with having killed the Saint, wanted to destroy also his lifeless body, but they had scarcely lit the bonfire that was to have consumed the body before there was a mammoth thunderclap; the earth shook and the sky loosed a storm of hailstones.  The fire was quenched and the pagans dispersed, allowing the Christians to come and collect the sacred remains of their martyred bishop and father in the Faith.  These they placed in a stone coffin in the place where they gathered for common prayer.  Later, in the ninth century, Islamic incursions caused the relics to be transferred to Venice, where they are preserved to this day in the magnificent basilica dedicated to this holy Apostle and Evangelist. Compiled from The Lives of the Holy Apostles (from the Menology of St. Dimitri of Rostov), Holy Apostles Convent; the Life of St. Mark by Nun Barbara in Pravoslavnaya Zhizn, Jordanville; and The Prologue of Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, Lazarica Press.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Feast of the Resurrection

Happy Easter!

Mark 16:1-8

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; --it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
This sermon was written by St. John Chrysostom, the Patriarch or Arch-bishop of Constantinople in the fifth century. He gave this sermon at Hagia Sophia, the great cathedral of Constantinople at the Easter Vigil in the year 400. This is the sermon I would have given tonight (in español) at the Great Vigil of Easter if I were still in active ministry.

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever.
Amen!

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Holy Saturday


O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 27:57-66
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again.'
Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first."
Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.


I See You!

Sign by Danasoft - Get Your Free Sign