For this week’s homily, please play the video below:
The Church of San Clemente in Rome mentioned in our previous blog honors Pope St. Clement, the third successor of the Apostle Peter, according to the earliest lists. Near the Colosseum, the ancient church was probably built over his home, a wonderful place to visit when in Rome.
Clement wrote an important letter around the year 95 to the church at Corinth, which was having a flare-up of the turmoil the Apostle Paul addressed earlier in his two letters to that church. Clement tells the community to stop their fighting and remember who they are. They were fighting about leadership in their community; some refused to follow the leaders in charge. “The office of bishop gives rise to intrigues,” Clement says in his letter. Work together and respect authority.
He reminds them of their life in Jesus Christ; “we see ourselves reflected in him.” Like soldiers in the legions, Christians must depend on each other.
“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.
“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.
In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.
Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God, who has given them what they need. Let the wise display their wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to themselves, but leave witness to be borne to them by others. Let those who are pure in the flesh not grow proud of it and boast, knowing another has bestowed the gift of continence on them.
Let us consider, then, brothers and sisters, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a grave, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. God who made us and fashioned us, having prepared bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into this world.
Since we receive all these things from God, we ought for everything to give God thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We begin reading the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel along with the Acts of the Apostles this 4th week of Easter. Facing their loss of Jesus the disciples seem helpless as he says farewell. “I have a lot to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” he says. The Lord recognizes their paralysis.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, Paul and his companions are not helpless at all. They’re boldly on their way to places that may not seem impressive to us now, but were impressive places then: Psidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, Corinth. Three were important Roman colonies, strategic cities on the Roman grid, steps on the road to Rome itself. Athens, of course, was a key intellectual center of the empire, though maybe a little down-trodden when Paul got there.
Paul welcomed people into his growing ministry. Meeting Lydia, the trader in purple dyes at the river, he baptizes her and her household. How many did she bring to the gospel? Priscilla and Acquila, the two Jews that Claudius expelled from Rome during the Jewish riots of AD 42, became his trusted partners.
Maybe it’s good that we read these two scriptures together.
The Acts of the Apostles tell of a church confidently on its way to the ends of the earth to fulfill its mission.
The Farewell Discourse, on the other hand, says that sometimes a church can be paralyzed in its thinking and acting. But the Lord is the shepherd of both. What seems like the end can be only a beginning.
May 25th is the Feast of St. Mark, author of one of the gospels. We can forget real people wrote the gospels, but the medieval portrait above shows the evangelist real enough as he adjusts his spectacles and pours over a book, surely his gospel. A lion looks up at him, the powerful voice of God.
He’s an old man, his eyes are going, He has to be old if he’s a disciple of Peter, as tradition claims. Mark’s gospel appears shortly before or after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. If he’s the author of the gospel, as it’s said, he’s in his 70s at least.
He may have written his account in Rome, where he came with Peter, who calls Mark in his 1st Letter “my son.” In 64 AD, the Christians of the city experienced a vicious persecution at the hands of the Emperor Nero. Peter and Paul died in that persecution. For years afterwards, Christian survivors were still asking themselves, no doubt, why it happened.
They say Mark wrote his gospel in answer to that dreadful experience. He would have heard Peter’s witness to Jesus many times; he knows his story.
Mark was not just a stenographer repeating Peter’s eyewitness account; he’s adapted the apostle’s story, adding material and insights of his own. For a long time Mark’s gospel was neglected, but scholars today admire it for its simplicity and masterful story telling. It’s the first gospel written and Matthew and Luke derive much of their material from it.
I like the wonderful commentary: The Gospel of Mark, in the Sacra Pagina series from Liturgical Press, by John Donohue,SJ and Daniel Harrington, SJ (Collegeville, Min. 2002). A great guide to this gospel and its rich message.
It offers a unique wisdom. It does not flinch before the mystery of suffering. We can’t understand it. There’s a darkness about this gospel that makes it applicable to times like ours. We’re disciples of Jesus.We must follow him, no matter what.
You gave St. Mark the privilege of proclaiming your gospel. May we profit by his wisdom and follow Christ more faithfully. Grant this, through Christ, your Son.