Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reflections on the Feast of St. Mark

St. Mark is an inspiration to me.  The reason is because he was a failure in a really big way.  What do I mean by that?

St. Mark was the cousin of St. Barnabas and accompanied him and St. Paul during their first missionary journey.  For some unknown reason, Mark abandoned the team.  When Paul and Barnabas returned and were getting ready to set out for a second journey, Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance.  Paul said no way.  Imagine being on the bad side of St. Paul if you want to do anything in the ancient Church.  That's where Mark found himself. 

If the story ended there we wouldn't be talking about it today.  Paul took Silas and continued his missionary work.  Barnabas took Mark and they began a different missionary journey.  Whatever happened in the ensuing years, Mark proved himself trustworthy in spite of his earlier failure.  By the end of his life we hear Paul giving him a recommendation: "Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me," (2 Tim. 4:11). We also hear St. Peter referring to Mark as his son in the faith (1 Pet. 5:13).  Tradition says that Mark was the spokesman for Peter and that his gospel is probably from Peter's point of view.  Mark is credited with having laid the foundation for the Church in Alexandria. 

As I said, Mark is an inspiration to me.  I have failed the Lord more times than I care to think about.  Some of those failures have been public and earned me some bad feelings on the part of others.  But I know that if I continue to remain faithful that God will erase my failures and provide opportunities to serve Him that have the potential of leaving something for eternity. 

Regardless of where you find yourself on this feastday of St. Mark, whether a victor or a failure, take heart as you consider the example of St. Mark.  Nothing is impossible with God if we will be faithful to what He has called us to do, even if the person speaking against us happens to be a St. Paul.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Our Cross

I am becoming a fan of St. John Cassian. I offer the following selection from Day By Day With The Early Church Fathers, entitled Our Cross as a reason why:

The fear of the Lord is our cross. Those who are crucified no longer have the power to move or turn their limbs in any direction they please. Similarly, we shouldn't fix our wishes and desires on what pleases and delights us now, but according to how the Law of the Lord constrains us. Those who are fastened to the wood of the cross no longer consider present things or think about their preferences. They aren't distracted by anxiety and care for tomorrow and aren't disturbed by the desire for any possession. They aren't inflamed by pride, strife, or rivalry. They don't grieve during present pain and don't remember past injuries. For while they are still breathing in the body, they consider themselves dead to every earthly thing. Instead, they send the thoughts of their heart ahead to where they know they will shortly follow. So when we are crucified by fear of the Lord, we should definitely be dead to all these things. That is, we shouldn't only die to wickedness, but also to every earthly thing. We should fix the eye of our minds onto the place we constantly hope to reach. For in this way we can destroy all our desires and fleshly affections.

Taken from Institutes 4.35

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Eve of the Triduum

The holiest season of the Church draws near. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are known as the Easter Triduum. I believe that the degree we enter into the joy of Easter is directly related to the degree that we really live through the Triduum.

On Holy Thursday we recall the Last Supper in which our Lord inaugurated both the priesthood and the Eucharist. But it was also the night of His betrayal. All of His disciples, save John, left Him. From a strictly objective viewpoint it would appear that all He taught and worked for was now lost. Holy Thursday brings tragedy, confusion, doubt, and despair. How can God's plans truly succeed when we find ourselves in such circumstances?

Good Friday is the day when our Lord gave His life for our sins. No one took it from Him. He gave it. He is, after all, the Son of God. As He said, He could have called legions of angels to His side. In fact, I often wonder if they were waiting for such a call as they also watched in horrified silence as the Lord of the universe was so mistreated by mere sinful men. Oh what a different picture it would have been if they could have done what their hearts desired. But I digress. Being, then, the Son of God it was not possible for any mortal, or all mortals combined, to put Him to death. But He freely gave His life for it was the only way possible to redeem these same mortals whom He loved more than His own life.

We call this "Good" Friday, not because His death brings any pleasure to us, but it was because it was only by means of His sacrifice that salvation has come into the world. It is good from God's standpoint as well as ours.

Holy Saturday is the day of silence. Jesus really died and was buried. When Saturday morning dawned the rest of the world went about its business as usual, but the early disciples were devastated as there had been no miracle to deliver their beloved Lord from death. Now they huddled together trying to make sense of it all and figuring out what their next steps would be.

We have a tendency to want to rush to Easter. We don't want to linger in these painful and uncomfortable moments. But we need to reckon with their reality. They have much to do with the life we are called to live every day.

I have friends who have heard the "C" word: cancer. Death stares them in the face and in response to repeated prayers of anguish there seems only the stark silence of Holy Saturday. Where is God? How could He let this happen? These were the questions of the early disciples. They are still with us today. There are others enduring equally devastating circumstances. Where is Easter morn for them? Mark this well, God has not promised that all of this life's circumstances will have a happy ending. But He has promised victory in the final outcome when death is finally defeated and we live in the light and glory of His face for eternity. That's the message of Easter and the message of the Gospel.

As I sit on the precipice of the Sacred Triduum these are some of my thoughts. I am asking for the grace of God to walk through these days and experience in the depths of my being what they offer. I am also asking that for those I know who are not merely walking through symbols but the reality of what they point to, that they too will have the grace to endure and press on as seeing the joy of the resurrection before them, even if it seems like a fading dream. May God grant us to truly know Him... in the fellowship of His sufferings and in the power of His resurrection.

May your Sacred Triduum and Easter be especially blessed!