Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (25 Apr)
St. Mark's personal history is the matter of some confusion. He seems to have been named John Mark, and called as much, but also John, and yet again Mark in Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul's writings, and in one of St. Peter's letters. It is not just his given name that is unclear, though. So are his travels.
Mark seems perhaps to have met St. Peter when, after his release from prison, the Apostle stayed at the home of Mark's mother. He travelled with St. Paul for a while, separating from him and his party over whether to travel deep into Asia Minor (modern Turkey). There is good evidence to suggest that during his period he travelled to Egypt and planted or nurtured the Church in Alexandria. The Coptic (Egyptian) Christians to this day count him as their first bishop. It is clear that in any event he eventually joined up with St. Peter in Rome. There, he wrote and organized the writings of St. Peter, which probably form the basis of his Gospel. He also translated and managed the affairs of the elder Apostle, doing the day to day work that kept St. Peter free for his ministry.
Perhaps either his own, or the ever-exuberant personality of St. Peter seems to be reflected in the Gospel of St. Mark in a few ways. Firstly, in that gospel account, our Blessed Lord never simply does anything. Rather, he seems always to immediately do everything. Our Lord is depicted as always on the go, a Man with a Plan, and no time to waste. Another feature of St. Mark's account is the early, frequent, and strong confrontations between our Lord and his adversaries, especially the Pharisees. Of the four Evangelists, he is the one depicted as or with a lion for these features of his Gospel.
It is unclear how St. Mark died. The earliest mentions of his death are rather late, in the 4th century, but they agree that he was martyred in Alexandria. Perhaps after Ss. Peter and Paul had been killed in Rome, St. Mark felt it important to return to his earlier ministry.
In a way it is fitting that his life is veiled to history. He, though a bishop in his own right, left that honor to serve as secretary to St. Peter, the first pope, in what was doubtless a difficult time of life for the both of them. By being content to have a small role in a growing Church, St. Mark bequeathed to us a priceless gem, his Gospel, that probably wouldn't have been written if he had clung to his earlier, more lauded role. He is an encouragement to the average Christian who doesn't seek glory or praise, but the humbler roles in a parish - cleaning floors, running errands for the pastor, and so on.
St. Mark, patron of secretaries, pray for us.
This past Sunday's readings (V Sunday of Eastertide; Act 6:1-7; Ps 33; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12) present a few interesting themes that could be discussed for some time. I am not here going to discuss them, but rather a little point buried in the St. John's gospel reading for the day.
After Jesus says, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way."
I think St. Thomas must have had a special place in our Lord's heart because of the special invitation our Lord extended to him alone, to put his hands into those Sacred Wounds. St. Thomas is accused of skepticism, but I think that isn't the case. I think that he is simply very practical. Tradition has it that he was a carpenter, or an architect of sorts perhaps, like our Lord himself. Carpenters and architects DON'T DO the impossible, because when they try, houses fall down on people's heads. Yet St. Thomas was willing to believe - he just needed a little convincing. That's sound. Here we see something of the same cautiousness:
"Master," Thomas asks, "We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"Very sensible question, St. Thomas. Very sensible indeed. You see, generally speaking, before we can plot out a course, we need to know our destination. That's common sense. The goal, though it comes after the process, must in a certain sense - in our mind - come before it. Here, St. Thomas merely points that out. Now, the Apostles did not yet understand exactly how Jesus of Nazareth, their rabbi who made increasingly grand claims about himself, fit into God's ongoing plan for the Jewish people and for the world. We have the vantage point of the Resurrection and Pentecost. They didn't.
Even for us now, though, St. Thomas' concern should resonate if we are paying attention. We know that the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the New Heavens and New Earth are to be our true and final home, but what that entails, exactly, who can say? St. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 2:9, "But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,nor the heart of man conceived,what God has prepared for those who love him."
Whither is an archaic English word that means "to where," or "to what point/purpose," and it is the Christian paradox. The whole rest of the world thinks they know what they are working for, whither they work: a big house, peace and quiet, "true love," a fancy vacation, or what have you. They spend a great deal of time planning and scrambling trying to attain the goal they think clear. When one way doesn't work, they try another way. When one career doesn't do it, they try another; when careers don't seem likely, they try the lottery. When one relationship breaks down, they try another; when relationships seem unlike, perhaps they try a shrink or medication. In reality they do not understand that what they truly seek, the answer to all their heart's longing, is Jesus Christ.
We Christians, on the other hand, don't really know what we are working toward, but in a different way. Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of His Father is our goal, the new life we seek, but what exactly that new life will look like, we cannot even really imagine because it is, in one sense, so fundamentally different than anything we've ever experienced. We know, but not really, whither we go.
But we do know the exact way to get there, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" Union with Christ in our Father's House is our goal, the new life we seek, whatever it will be. Jesus Christ is the way to get there, and he is the truth, the reality check about where we are actually at. The Second Vatican Council teaches us this: "Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear," (Gaudium et Spes, #22). It is not quite like being given a map, but rather instructions about what-to-do-if. "If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also," (Mt 5:39) and the list goes on throughout the Gospel. It is like giving an explorer or pilgrim instructions rather than a map: "If you come to moutains, use your rope to climb over them; if you come to a river, use your rope to ford it. Eventually you will get to where you are supposed to be, wherever that is." Only our instructions more or less boil down to this:
"And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?" (Mt 6:28-30). As we explore on this pilgrimage, we must ask our Father for humility so that we can continue to trust Him through whatever hair-raising adventures our continued conversion requires.
You might say, loosely, that our instructions are, "If you are tempted by sin, trust in your Heavenly Father. If you are worried about taking care of your children, trust in your Heavenly Father. If people hate you, trust in your Heavenly Father. If you get to thinking that you have to do something bad to get by, or to get ahead, trust in your Heavenly Father."
So we Christians know exactly how we are to go. It is whither that we know only dimly. On that deepest level, we Christians are working for the same goal as all the world, for an eternal happiness, for the joy and love that never end. But woe to us if our goals don't look different than the worldlings' on another level. We might just end up going where many of them may if we don't show them a better way to get to our true and final home. St. Thomas, supposedly faithless and doubting, went all the way to India to show people the way to their unknown destination. So much for "faithless" and "doubting." And he did it without a map.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
- by e. e. cummings
In an attitude of humble prayer, "Jesus, help me not to give in to this temptation. I am so weak, I know I'll blow it if you don't help me. This feeling will lead me to sin if you don't deliver me from temptation, Father. Please. Amen." Prayer develops and personalizes the experienced relationship with God, and becomes the setting or backdrop for our shared life with Him. In a life saturated, or at least tinted and speckled with prayer, God can act more freely and we can more easily recognize his action.
The rate at which my little blog is hit has decreased lately, I think. That is probably because I've been posting less. The main intention for this blog is to save my friends having to listen quite so much to me rambling ad nauseam (literally) with all my "bright ideas." I've also noticed lately that I've been doing more "bright idea" rambling even than usual of late.
I am going to try to fix both, even though I've been ridiculously busy lately. A good solution might be more frequent, short, easy-to-post and easy-to-read posts.
Mercy is the virtue by which we freely stoop down to another when we need not have, without pride or gloating, and free them from hurt and bondage. We cancel the debt they owe us without fanfare and self-congratulation. We tend their wounds with gentle ointments. We listen to their heart.
Here's a beautiful passage about mercy from von Hildebrand's Transformation in Christ:
"Mercy presupposes true inner freedom
It also presupposes an inward suppleness and fluidity; a thoroughly melted, quickened, liberated heart. Every inward scar, as it were - every hardening, every incrustation brought about by an experience we have failed to rectify before God - dams up the flux of mercy. Nay, the path of mercy is thwarted by every kind of inner unfreedom: by our bondage, for example, to anxiety or disgust; to the rancor evoked in us by an insult; and in general to every overemphatic preoccupation. For everything that stunts our freedom tends to make us self-conscious and to deprive us of the capacity, implied in mercy, of taking our stand above the situation.
He alone who has attained the supernatural sovereignty that results from true freedom and is reserved for those who seek only the kingdom of God and his justice, who expects nothing of his own forces but everything of God - he alone can participate in the specifically divine virtue of mercy.
None but those who have burst the narrow limits of ego-life, and in full openness and awakeness centered their lives in Christ, can truly respond to the miseria of others and - beyond all mere compassion - perform the act of that redeeming loving kindness which conveys to the wretched a breath of the love of God and lifts them from their misery, "Lifting up the poor out of the dunghill, that he may place him with princes, with the princes of his people," (Ps 112:7-8).
Mercy presupposes humility
Nor is this holy sovereignty possible without humility. He alone who is deeply humble is blessed with true inward freedom and fluidity; he alone is free from all impeding hardness. The general significance of humility as a condition of all participation in the divine life stands out in particular brightness when it is a question of mercy. Our possession of the highest human virtue (which is humility) constitutes the necessary foundation of our progress toward sharing the specifically divine virtue of mercy. We must die to ourselves so that the mercy of Christ may fill us. With St. John the Baptist we must say: "He must increase; but I must decrease," (Jn 3:30).
Our mercy toward others is the measure of our life in Christ
Mercy, the specifically supernatural virtue, thus provides a touchstone more infallible perhaps than the test of any other virtue for a life conceived and molded in Christ. Hence, the question whether we have been merciful must play a decisive part in our examination of conscience. Many are the occasions for mercy which we miss. Only too often do we, as did the Pharisee, pass by a wounded one - clinging to our personal concerns, circumscribed by our lack of freedom.
Yet, the virtue by which we live hourly is precisely the one of which we ought to be most mindful. And the mercy of God is what we live by. It pervades our lives integrally; it is the primal truth on which the whole being of a Christian rests... The way to attain the virtue of mercy lies in our constant awareness of being encompassed by mercy: of the fact that mercy is the air we children of God are breathing. May the mercy of God... pierce and transform our hearts. May it draw us into the orbit of its all-conquering, liberating, [gentle] power, before which all worldly standards collapse.
For according to the words of the Lord's Prayer... only insofar as we become merciful ourselves may we harvest the fruits of His mercy and taste, on a day to come, the last word of His mercy..."
I myself have lately experienced the conjunction of receiving and giving mercy. The other day I had my feelings hurt in a trivial way, but a way that kinda hit a nerve. It was hard to let go of my little grudge, and I was afraid that it would poison everything.
As I approached the confessional, the words came into my heart, "Be it done unto me according to Thy word," (Lk 1:38). I began to repeat the words quietly and slowly, over and over as I walked down the road toward my parish. I could feel my hands loosening their grip on the grudge I was carrying. The Lord opened my heart to His will, whatever it should be. As my heart opened, I was freed from the hurt feelings, isolation, anxiety, and stress that were trapped in my closed heart, each aggravating the others like rocks in a tumbler. Those feelings just melted. In the same process my desire and ability to be gentle, mindful of others, and forgive injuries intensified. No - more than that. It wasn't simply that my desire to forgive was intensified; before my desire to forgive had been intense but I couldn't do it. Now it was done. It was done unto me. When I blessed myself in the confessional before telling the priest my sins, I realized that the hand that had clutched that grudge was now emptied and relaxed.
The ability to receive mercy depends upon faith. We must trust that God really does love us and have a plan for our wellbeing or we will not be open to what He wants to give us. We must trust that if we pour our heart out to God, that He will not leave us empty and broken, but will pour gracy and mercy into our soul.
The ability to show mercy depends upon faith. We must trust that God will do justice to those who have injured us maliciously, so that we need not concern ourselves so much with our rights, etc. We must trust that God will heal our wounds. We must trust that God will help us to grow because of them, and help those who have injured us without ill-will to grow as well. Ultimately, we must trust that God is being merciful to us, even when we cannot feel it.
When we are freed from interior wounds and let go of anger and grudges, we can gently tend to others - even to those who have harmed us.
Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Today (3 Apr '08) is the birthday of my sister Keelin. She is 24 years old, though she was a bit younger in the picture at right. I remember being about six years old when our parents sat my sister Megan and me down to talk. They told us that we would have a new baby brother or sister coming soon. We asked if we could hold the baby, and they said that of course we would be able to if we promised to be very careful.
Keelin was born and seemed normal enough, but as time went on it became clear that she had a mental disability. In the mid-1980s in outer suburban Maryland we hadn't heard of autism, and so when my parents eventually received that diagnosis, it must not have meant much to them. Over the last 24 years, though, it has come to mean a great deal to us. You can be sure about that.
Keelin isn't the Rain Man. I say that because for a long time, Dustin Hoffman's acclaimed contribution to cinema provoked that question when people would learn that she was autistic. At first, they usually thought we had said, "artistic," and then, after scanning their memory, they would say, "Oh, like the Rain Man in that movie... what was it called?" One of us would answer coldly, for the three thousand six hundred and sixteenth time, "Rain Man." And then, "Well, not exactly like that." You see, Keelin hasn't any "special skills," like counting toothpicks very quickly. In fact, from the autistic people I've gotten to know through Keelin, I rather doubt that the toothpick-counting variety of autistic persons actually exists. She was reasonably athletic, but her athleticism was of limited application because, for instance at Special Olympics footraces, she would usually veer off the track in pursuit of some grass or a bit of mulch that caught her fancy. She hadn't much use for footraces, Special Olympics, the marks of personal accomplishment, or even other persons, generally speaking.
What Keelin has is an amazing ability to entertain herself. Caught up and cut off in a world of her own by a disorder that nobody really understands, and a severe variety of the disorder for that matter, she has always been on her own, even in a crowded room. Sometimes she seems so inexpressibly sad, and all the more inexpressibly for being unable to express her sadness to someone, anyone. Once in a while, I think I kinda know how she feels. My sister's own bottled-up-ness seems to overwhelm her sometimes. She can become so frustrated that she becomes violent against herself. Her hand is scarred from biting it so much. Other times, Keelin becomes just elated - the sun on her face as we drive through Maryland's beautiful hills and woods can make her beam like nothing else. She usually likes looking for horses while we drive on our country roads, but like other people, sometimes even her normal interests don't interest her. She enjoys a lot of normal things: pancakes and ice cream, car rides and the beach, getting postcards in the mail and exploring new places.
I said earlier that she hadn't much use for other people generally speaking. Generally speaking, that's true, but not always. Sometimes she seems to come out of her bubble, just a bit, or just for a little while. She'll make eye contact, laugh, seize your attention, and give a hug that goes beyond the routine mechanical hugs she's been taught to give. This past Thanksgiving, she was more out of her bubble than normal. She laughed at all the jokes, waited patiently for dessert, was relaxed, and at peace. She suffers unwittingly so much that it was very beautiful just to be with her while she was genuinely enjoying herself. This past Christmas with her was very nice as well.
Keelin has been a blessing. No if's, and's, or but's. She has taught us patience with the frail, love of simple things, and the importance of family. In fact, in the wake of my parents' divorce, Keelin has been at times the only thing that really holds us all (or, at least my parents) together in a practical way, because we all agree that we care for her at whatever cost. She lives in a group home only 40 minutes from the rest of us, and she receives family visitors and excursions with us two or three times weekly. She comes home on holidays for an extra visit, and the staff at her home take her shopping and on vacation. It's not ideal, but neither is the world. Another important point that Keelin has taught me is that we never really know what's going on inside of anyone; so it's best to take it easy on them if we can.
The point of life, those who advocate euthanasia would be well-advised to learn, isn't to eliminate suffering, but to learn to love in the midst of suffering. Love in the midst of suffering stands out in clearer contrast and shines all the brighter, bringing more joy and more life. As hard as it is to say so, given her condition, that I am grateful that God gave her to us, entrusted her to us. Autism and all.
Even though she doesn't read, let alone surf the web, it has to be said:
We love you.
I found these words, attributed to St. Francis, and was taken with their simplicity and devotion:
"When we speak the name of Mary, heaven becomes more beautiful, and earth rejoices. The demons are terrified, and vanish like dust in the wind," Saint Francis of Assisi ( 1181 - 1226).
Easter day might be over and Annunciation Day gone by, but that doesn't mean that we have to stop telling people about Christ the King, what He has done for us, and about the beautiful Queen-Mother He has given us!