Tag Archives: gospel of Mark

The First Martyrs of Rome: June 30

June 30th, the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we remember the Christians  martyred with them in Nero’s persecution in the mid 60s, a persecution that shook the early  church.

It began with an early morning fire that broke out on July 19, 64 in a small shop by the Circus Maximus and spread rapidly to other parts of the city, raging nine days through Rome’s narrow street and alleyways where more than a million people lived in apartment blocks of flimsy wooden construction.

Only two areas escaped the fire; one of them, Trastevere, across the Tiber River, had a large Jewish population.

Nero was at his seaside villa in Anzio and delayed returning to the city. Not a good move for a politician, even an emperor. Angered by his absence,  people wondered if he set the fire himself so he could rebuild the city on grand plans of his own.

To stop the rumors, Nero looked for someone to blame. He chose a group of renegade Jews called Christians, whose reputation was tarnished by incidents years earlier when the Emperor Claudius banished some of them from Rome after rioting occurred in the synagogues over Jesus Christ.

“Nero was the first to rage with Caesar’s sword against this sect,” the early-Christian writer Tertullian wrote. “To suppress the rumor,” the Roman historian Tacitus says, “Nero created scapegoats. He punished with every kind of cruelty the notoriously depraved group known as Christians.”

We don’t know their names,  how long it went on or how many were killed: the Roman historians do not say. Possibly  60,000 Jewish merchants and slaves lived in Rome then; some were followers of Jesus and had broken away from the Jewish community even before Peter and Paul arrived in the city.(cf. The Letter to the Romans)

Following usual procedure, the Roman  authorities seized some and forced them by torture to give the names of others. “First, Nero had some of the members of this sect arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers were condemned — not so much for arson, but for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made a farce.” (Tacitus)

The Christians were killed with exceptional cruelty in Nero’s gardens and in public places like the race course on Vatican Hill. “Mockery of every sort accompanied their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Tacitus)

Nero went too far, even for Romans used to barbaric cruelty. “There arose in the people a sense of pity. For it was felt that they (the Christians) were being sacrificed for one man’s brutality rather than to the public interest.” (Tacitus)

How did the Roman Christians react to this absurd, unjust tragedy? They had to ask why God permitted this and did not stop it. Fellow  believers were among those who turned them in.

The Gospel of Mark, written shortly after this tragedy in Rome, was likely written to answer these questions, scholars say. Jesus, innocent and good, experienced death at the hands of wicked men, that gospel insists. He suffered a brutal, absurd death. Mark’s gospel gives  no answer to the question of suffering except to say that God saved his Son from death.

The Gospel of Mark also gives an unsparing account of Peter’s denial of Jesus in his Passion with no excuse for his failure. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his own followers.

Finally, the Roman Christians afterwards would surely wonder whether to stay in this city, an evil city like Babylon Should they go to a safer, better place? The Christians remained in the city. Was the “Quo Vadis?” story a story prompted by questions like these ?

The martyrs of Rome strengthen us to stand where we are and do God’s will, inspired by the Passion of Christ.

A video about the persecution is at the beginning of today’s blog.

Here’s a video about Peter’s encounter with Jesus as he flees from the city during this same persecution: “Quo Vadis?”

Here are Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Ss.Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, once the gardens of the Emperor Nero. Were some early Roman martyrs put to death here?

8th Week of the Year

 

Graphic Pentecost

May 27 SUN THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Solemnity
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40/Rom 8:14-17/Mt 28:16-20 (165)

28 Mon Weekday (Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
1 Pt 1:3-9/Mk 10:17-27 (347)

29 Tue Weekday
1 Pt 1:10-16/Mk 10:28-31 (348)

30 Wed Weekday
1 Pt 1:18-25/Mk 10:32-45 (349)

31 Thu The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast
Zep 3:14-18a or Rom 12:9-16/Lk 1:39-56 (572)

June 1 Fri Saint Justin, Martyr
Memorial
1 Pt 4:7-13/Mk 11:11-26 (351)

2 Sat Weekday
[Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Martyrs; BVM]
Jude 17, 20b-25/Mk 11:27-33 (352)

The First Letter of Peter, read this week, was written from Rome by Peter, the apostle, to Christians threatened by persecution, ancient tradition says. Some modern scholars question if Peter himself wrote it and suggest a later author wrote using his name. You can hear in the readings early baptismal teaching which the author uses to remind his listeners who they are.

In chapters 10 and 11 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, a journey many do not understand and, like the rich young man, they decide not to join him. James and John also thought his journey would bring power and prestige, but it was not to be. We hear in these readings lessons for the Roman church of the 70s, but the lessons are also meant for us..

A feast of Mary occurs every month in the calendar. This month it’s the Visitation (May 31), placed in the calendar between the Feast of the Annunciation (March 15) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) We’re reminded of Mary’s role as a bearer of good news to her older cousin Elizabeth, who will give birth to John. Mary always brings her Son to us too.

The Wisdom of Ordinary Time

DSC00804
The readings in today’s Mass point to the wisdom of ordinary time. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says to his disciples who complain there are others “who do not follow us” driving out demons. (Mark 9,38-40) Wisdom is not just in our tradition; it’s there everywhere in ordinary time.

I like the hand in the picture above of Bernini’s famous window in St.Peter’s. Who’s hand is it, anyway? A believer’s hand. Yes, for sure. But also the hand of all who walk this earth searching for truth.

“Wisdom breathes life into her children” (Sirach 4,11 ) Like much of the wisdom literature in the bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Psalms) the Book of Sirach, one of the readings at the beginning of ordinary time, draws much of its content from the culture of the middle east which influenced the Jews at home and in their exile in other lands.

As the gift of God breathed into ordinary time, the Holy Spirit “renews the face of the earth.” The Spirit’s wisdom is everywhere.

The Feast of St. Mark

Mark
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.

Father,
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.

 Eternally Yours

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mk 12: 18-27) a group of Sadducees (a powerful priestly party that denies the resurrection of the dead) tries to confound Jesus by getting Him to comment on a hypothetical situation that would make resurrection from the dead ridiculous. They cite a situation similar to the one in today’s first reading from the Book of Tobit, where Sara, the daughter of Raguel has had the misfortune of being widowed seven times. They ask Jesus, “ At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her. “ Jesus answers them :

    “ Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

    Jesus neutralizes their petty traps handily. But, in this sacred Scripture passage our Lord also gives us some hints about the mystery of life after death. Our loving God will give us the gift of being “ Like the angels in heaven “. Jesus seems to say that God IS the God of the Patriarchs, and since God is the pure source of life, He can only be the God of the living. Therefore these Patriarchs, many years after their “deaths”, must still be alive with and in Him. He is also our God, and always will be. We also have the hope of always living with Him throughout eternity.

    On this Pentecost Sunday, at Mass in my Parish the last song about the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the music of Beethoven’s “Song of Joy” from his 9th Symphony. As soon as I heard the melody I thought of my father, who did so much to introduce me to the music of this, our favorite composer. The Spirit of God filled my eyes with tears as I felt my father so alive and present within my soul. My mother was there with him. Like on so many other sacred moments, I knew that they still lived in God’s arms, and were there waiting for me. On the day of that Mass, through the loving power of God, I was able to feel palpably the presence of the Communion of the Saints with all of us in that joyful church building.

    Yes, “ We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. “

    Amen! Thank You Jesus, for Your mercy. Through Your Passion and Resurrection, You have given us the hope of living in your Love forever!   

Orlando Hernandez

Numbers

Our new president is interested in numbers. How many people were at his inauguration; how many votes did he get? Numbers indicate power and popularity.

I think Jesus’ disciples were interested in numbers too. In Mark’s gospel, which we’re reading at Mass these days, Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)

But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him; religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. The numbers go down.

His disciples must have wondered why. Why did people oppose him? Why are the numbers going down? It didn’t make sense.

In our reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus answers them. God‘s working in this world, the kingdom of God is coming, but human beings are mostly unaware of it.
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4, 28-34)

A greater power is at work in the scattered seed; the one casting it to the ground knows little about the way it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but it will come in mystery.

Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are a growing number of Americans–almost 25%– giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.

What can we do? Treasure the seed we have, scatter it as we can, look into the signs of the times. The Kingdom of God comes.

Friday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
Love God and love your neighbor, Jesus says in today’s gospel.(Mark 12, 28-34) We would expect to hear about love on a lenten Friday since every Friday of the year is associated with the Friday called Good. The lenten fridays especially prepare us for that great day of love.

The gospels dwell on what took place that day in great detail. On their part, historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of Jesus’ passion and death in different ways. What political or religious factors were behind it? Who were the people involved? What was crucifixion like? The day is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life. But, above all, it’s a day about love.

Why did Jesus suffer such a death, we ask? As God’s Son, no one could take his life from him. The only answer we can give is that Jesus gave himself up to death and he accepted death on the Cross out of love for his Father and out of love for us. Love caused him to say in the Garden, “Your will be done.” Love called words of forgiveness from the cross:”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The cross was not something Jesus endured; he embraced  it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. Before his cross, we stand before Love.

“When you experience dryness in your prayer, gently stir your spirit with loving acts then rest in God. Softly say to him, ‘How bruised your face, how swollen, how disfigured with spit. I see your bones laid bare. What suffering, what blows, what grief. Love is one great wound. Sweet are your wounds, sweet is your suffering. I want to keep you always close to my heart.” (Paul of the Cross:Letter 23)

Lord Jesus Christ,
the scribe in today’s gospel repeated the command to love
and you praised him for it.
May I keep before me the great commandment
to love God and my neighbor
and live it as you did.
Give me that grace. Amen.