Reading I: Rv 21:9b-14
Responsorial Psalm: 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18
Gospel: Jn 1:45-51
Liturgical colour: Red.
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Bartholomew the apostle. Bartholomew is a relatively difficult saint to celebrate because we hardly know anything truly about him. There are some who may believe that Bartholomew is the same person as Nathaniel –scholars have been known to argue about the truth or otherwise of this. What we do know is that In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that Bartholomew is listed as being one of the twelve Apostles of the Lord.
Ancient writers on the history of the Christian faith write that Bartholomew was an apostle to India – possibly is the region of Mumbai (Bombay). Along with his fellow apostle Jude, Bartholomew is reputed to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century. By tradition, Bartholomew is said to have been flayed alive, before being crucified upside down, thus becoming the patron saint of Leather-workers. In painting and sculpture, Bartholomew is often represented as holding a knife, with his own skin neatly draped over his arm. Bartholomew has also always been associated with healing, so there are a number of hospitals which have been named after him.
Bartholomew is also believe to be associated with the small Italian Island of Lipari, where he may have been buried. During World War II, the regime looked for ways to finance its activities, and ordered that a silver statue of Saint Bartholomew from the cathedral in Lipari was to be melted down. But when the statue was weighed, it was found to only actually weigh just a few grams so it was returned to its place in the Cathedral of Lipari. However, In reality, this same statue is made wholly of solid silver and therefore should indeed be very heavy in weight. This is a fairly recent miracle that has been associated with St Bartholomew.
About Bartholomew himself we know almost nothing, except that he was an Apostle of Jesus. Far from being a negative thing, I think this is the most important thing about this rather mysterious and anonymous apostle. For this teaches us that the call to serve is not really anything whatsoever to do with worldly status or fame. If we Look around us today, we will see much evidence of the reign of ego and of worldly fame, perhaps it is media stars and celebrities which tend to be the best known for this. An increasing number of children, when asked what they want to do when they grow up, say that they want to be famous, to be a celebrity or a star– and that the goal of reaching fame has become for them their vocation. Some of our politicians can also seem rather the same way. But the church isn’t entirely exempt either: we see evangelists on religious tv stations, pastors of megachurches, and, unfortunately, some bishops and clergy who just love being in the spotlight, have who love self-publicity. I once heard someone say that their church was OK but it was hard to see God because the Vicar always got in the way. It’s a temptation clergy are aware of and must always resist – our job is to point people to God, not towards ourselves.
So Bartholomew’s anonymity shows us ‘it’s not all about us’. Our job as Christians is to get out of the way and to enable people to catch a glimpse of the God and Father whom we serve. We also know, from the life of this mysterious and anonymous apostle, that we actually don’t need worldly fame, because God loves us, and that is all we need – we ought to need no other adulation than that!!
Each and every one of us eventually will join the ranks of anonymous Christians who have served God throughout the ages. In 2000 years’ time – and most likely long before that – we will all have been forgotten, except perhaps by the odd ancestor hunter who might still be digging our names out of archives and searching church registers to find historical information.
This might seem rather disheartening, but it definitely needn’t be such, because we know we are each p of God’s creation and of his redeeming: we are each loved by God more than we could ever hope imagine! Part of our job as Christians, is to try to discover more of this love as we go about living our lives. When we truly understand even a little bit of this love that God our Father and our creator, truly has for us, our anxieties about worldly status, worldly importance and worldly fame, begin to lose their hold over us. In God’s love we truly have everything we need.
So often we see the lives of the rich and famous descend into tragedy or disaster. Worldly riches and fame often don’t bring true and lasting happiness. The ordinariness of our lives is something which we as Christians should celebrate, if, like Bartholomew, our lives are built on the rock of faith and we have the knowledge of God’s true and eternal love, like a hidden jewel, burning deep inside of us.
So Bartholomew is one of us: he is a follower, a disciple, and a servant of Our Lord Jesus Christ. An anonymous, unshowy person who gave of his best. Bartholomew may well be Someone we don’t know all that much about, but we do know that his soul is now residing with God where that great love will, at last, be fully known.
That is all that is needed. All that truly matters. Amen
Reading I: Sgs 3:1-4b OR: 2 Cor 5:14-17
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Gospel: Jn 20:1-2, 11-18
Liturgical colour: White.
My dearest brothers and sisters -in-Christ,
There are a many Marys within the Holy Scriptures —the New Testament mentions six altogether! The Mary we know as Mary Magdalene, whose memorial we celebrate today, draws her title from Magdala, the city of her origin. Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). Afterward, she became His disciple.
John’s Gospel tells us that she was one of the Marys present at the crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus:”Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25, NIV).
And Mary Magdalene was also the very first witness to the Lord’s resurrection: Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:11–16, NIV).
Mary’s devotion to the Lord Jesus put her in the spotlight of several writings told to us within the Holy Gospels. The life and the faith of Mary Magdalene, both have such a lot to teach us about following Jesus. Here are three lessons we can learn from Mary Magdalene.
1. We don’t have to be defined by our past: There’s a lot of speculation about Mary’s background. Many People have tied Mary to the sinful woman in Luke 7:36–50. Many also assume that Mary was a prostitute or a woman of ill repute. But there truly isn’t any biblical evidence whatsoever for portraying Mary in that light.
As Luke tells us, Mary had seven demons cast out of her. Whatever her background had been before she met Jesus, as is also true for the rest of us even today, Mary isn’t defined by who she was before meeting the Lord. All that is important is who Mary became after discovering Him.
Like Mary, we don’t have to let our pasts dictate how we see ourselves, nor should dictate how others may see us. Paul explains it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)!
2. Jesus should be the center of our lives: After Mary’s first encounter with Our Lord Jesus, Luke tells us:
“After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, And also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1–3, NIV).
Not only did Mary follow the Lord Jesus and His disciples from town to town, but she and some other women also helped to support Christ and the disciples financially. This role continued throughout His earthly ministry.
Matthew tells us that they were present at the crucifixion, and followed Jesus all the way to Galilee to take care of Him: “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55–56, NIV).
It’s no surprise then, that Mary Magdalene would find herself in a prominent position at the Lord’s resurrection, also.
We should live our lives by following Mary’s example. When we encounter Jesus, we shouldn’t return to the life we previously lived. Our Lord and Saviour changes everything! Our whole life ought to become about following and serving Him until—like Mary—our story becomes intertwined and indistinguishable from His own.
3. Jesus uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong: In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the gospel as being foolishness. The world doesn’t understand it, so they discount and dismiss it.
According to Paul, God did that on purpose: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).
We see a perfect example of this principle in Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. In a time when women were seen as second class citizens with no real authority, Jesus demonstrated a special tenderness and care for women. We see this in His choice to reveal Himself to Mary first after the resurrection.
This is the most critical event in history, and Jesus made a woman the first witness. He even encourages her to tell the disciples (John 20:17). The irony is that they didn’t believe Mary and the other women (Luke 24:11).
We need to be extremely careful in our lives, to ensure that we never dismiss things that don’t follow our human expectations, because Jesus doesn’t always do things in the way in which we may expect. Our Lord delights in working out His plan in the most wonderful, yet unlikeliest of ways. He did that through Mary, and if we let Him, He’ll do such through us, too!
Dear sisters and brothers, today our Holy Church commemorates birthday of Saint John, the Baptist. At the beginning of this sermon let us pray and read how God foretold the nativity of this Saint.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
What I personally find interesting when I think about Christian commemoration of the saints is that we most often commemorate the day of one saint`s death. Only if a Saint was a very big and special saint we celebrate his or her birthday. We celebrate Jesus` birthday, birthday of St. Mary, mother of God and birthday of St. John. St. Mary`s birthday is commemorated as she was the one participating God`s plan for the Son of Man to be born. On the other hand Saint John was the one participating in God`s plan for the Son of God to start His heavenly mission. Before meeting John and before being baptized Jesus didn`t start his heavenly work. Two key roles of Jesus were played with the help of Mary and John. And so, the Church commemorates two more birthdays along with the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus.
The same thing happens in life of every Christian. When we are born by our mothers we are born for this world. We are material sons and daughters of human. But what happens when we are baptized. After being baptized we start our spiritual journey through this life. We start something that should have been called – heavenly path. This path is not easy. We may have daily struggling with many things and temptations. Laziness, anger, stress, lack of time, negative thoughts, excessive sexual desire and imagination, bad mood, injustice that we see every day… all those can be factors that would lead us away from God over and over again. But we should always at least do our sign of cross and say “God, I know you are here, glory be to you always“. Doing cross sign is what reminds us on our baptism. Since we were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doing our sign of cross is like we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We remember that we are on our way of passion as Jesus was. And we all have our own cross.
Today we will talk mostly about the nativity of Saint John but as I said at the beginning of this text, it is interesting that not many nativities are commemorated by the Church. What we do commemorate is – death! This looks scary, right? Well, it might only look that way but it is interesting to make correlation between death and baptism. When we die we are buried under ground. There is a symbolic burying under the water when a person is baptized. Baptism is also symbol of death. But when we, Christians, say the word “death“ we should refer it to being dead for the sin and for the evil acts. We are washed, spiritually purified, justified by faith, saved by grace and dead for the sin and should be jumping out of the water of baptism as a new man. Born for the life, born for the love and born for God. Often when I think about saints, commemorations and Christian holidays I try to think how we can use and apply what we learn from these commemorations in our everyday life. When I think about the water of baptism I like to think that our blanket on our bed may be also a good reminder of who we are in Christ. When we lay in bed to sleep it is like laying in the tomb of baptism. When you wake up in the morning and you remove your cover and stand up remember that Jesus raised you up for this day. Christianity is full of beautiful symbols everywhere. Be thankful and pray or at least do your sign of the cross. Do it with faith and love. See how blessed you are. If you have time read your Bible. Make a habit to practice it every day. Here I would like to share a part from the Bible to see more about Nativity of John the Baptist.
The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
As we are remembering the importance of the baptism, and meditate on what we have read from the Bible. As we practice gratefulness for all the blessings may we pray today to Saint John and give glory to our God for ever. Amen.
Saint Philip and James – witnesses of Jesus’ miracles
Whenever we celebrate the feast of an apostle, we are overwhelmed by the desire to learn as much as possible about his life. But this desire can only be modestly granted in this world because the information about most of the apostles is rather meager. This also applies to St. Philip and James the Younger, which we celebrate together today.
We find both apostles on all four apostolic lists in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and in the Acts of the Apostles. Philip is in fifth place, and James the younger, son of Alphaeus, in ninth place. According to the Gospel of John, Philip, like Andrew and Peter, came from Bethsaida on the Lake of Gennesaret. He is mentioned in five places in the Gospel of John.
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. However, he met Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me!’ Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Peter and Andrew. Philip met Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the Prophets too! This is Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth. ‘-‘ Can anything good come out of Nazareth? ‘Nathanael told him. “Come and see,” replied Philip “(Jn 1: 43-46). Philip was a youthful friend of the writer of the fourth gospel, with whom he belonged together to the discipleship of John the Baptist. That is why in his Gospel he erected this wonderful monument to him, which speaks of Philip’s first encounter with Jesus, as well as of his zeal to win another zealous disciple for Jesus as the promised Messiah. In his Gospel, John brings Philip to the stage and describes how Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people.
Then Jesus lifted up his eyes, and when he saw a great multitude coming to him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ Sam knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred loaves of bread would not suffice for everyone to get a little” (John 6: 5-7). It is also a very beautiful scene in the gospel when the Gentiles seek Jesus. “Among the pilgrims who came to worship on the feast were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Lord, we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew. Andrew and Philip went to tell Jesus ”(Jn 12: 20-30). And finally, at the farewell with the disciples, here again Philip comes to the fore. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you knew me, you would know my Father. You already know him and have seen him! Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we have had enough.’ He who has seen me has seen the Father. So how do you say: Show us the Father! Do you not believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? I do not speak for myself the words that I say to you: The Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me: I am in the Father and the Father is in me! If not, believe because of the works themselves ”(Jn 14: 6-11).
According to later tradition, Philip lived with his three daughters in Hierapolis in Asia Minor, where he died. Archaeologists even think they found his grave there. According to the church writers Polycrates and Papias, quoted by Eusebius, Philip’s daughters had the gift of prophecy. The relics of St. Philip the Apostle are worshiped in Rome in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, where the General Curia of the Franciscan-Conventuals is today.
St. James the Younger, son of Alphaeus, himself a writer of a New Testament scripture, except in the list of the apostles, is nowhere specifically mentioned in the Gospels. Sv. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians mentions him as one of the most eminent figures of the early Church, while in the Acts of the Apostles he stands out as the bishop of Jerusalem. His message is very serious. It is full of admonition, rebuke and threat. In its 108 lines we find 60 imperatives. It can always serve us as a very useful and saving spiritual reading against the hardening of our conscience.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
28.IV.2021 GEVGELIJA/MACEDONIA Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Sebastian and Peregrine
She was the youngest but one of a very large family. Her father, Giacomo di Benincasa, was a dyer; her mother, Lapa, the daughter of a local poet. They belonged to the lower middle-class faction of tradesmen and petty notaries, known as “the Party of the Twelve”, which between one revolution and another ruled the Republic of Siena from 1355 to 1368. From her earliest childhood Catherine began to see visions and to practice extreme austerities. At the age of seven she consecrated her virginity to Christ; in her sixteenth year she took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries, and renewed the life of the anchorites of the desert in a little room in her father’s house. After three years of celestial visitations and familiar conversation with Christ, she underwent the mystical experience known as the “spiritual espousals”, probably during the carnival of 1366. She now rejoined her family, began to tend the sick, especially those afflicted with the most repulsive diseases, to serve the poor, and to labor for the conversion of sinners. Though always suffering terrible physical pain, living for long intervals on practically no food save the Blessed Sacrament, she was ever radiantly happy and full of practical wisdom no less than the highest spiritual insight. All her contemporaries bear witness to her extraordinary personal charm, which prevailed over the continual persecution to which she was subjected even by the friars of her own order and by her sisters in religion. She began to gather disciples round her, both men and women, who formed a wonderful spiritual fellowship, united to her by the bonds of mystical love. During the summer of 1370 she received a series of special manifestations of Divine mysteries, which culminated in a prolonged trance, a kind of mystical death, in which she had a vision of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and heard a Divine command to leave her cell and enter the public life of the world. She began to dispatch letters to men and women in every condition of life, entered into correspondence with the princes and republics of Italy, was consulted by the papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and set herself to heal the wounds of her native land by staying the fury of civil war and the ravages of faction. She implored the pope, Gregory XI, to leave Avignon, to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States, and ardently threw herself into his design for a crusade, in the hopes of uniting the powers of Christendom against the infidels, and restoring peace to Italy by delivering her from the wandering companies of mercenary soldiers. While at Pisa, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375, she received the Stigmata, although, at her special prayer, the marks did not appear outwardly in her body while she lived.
Mainly through the misgovernment of the papal officials, war broke out between Florence and the Holy See, and almost the whole of the Papal States rose in insurrection. Catherine had already been sent on a mission from the pope to secure the neutrality of Pisa and Lucca. In June, 1376, she went to Avignon as ambassador of the Florentines, to make their peace; but, either through the bad faith of the republic or through a misunderstanding caused by the frequent changes in its government, she was unsuccessful. Nevertheless she made such a profound impression upon the mind of the pope, that, in spite of the opposition of the French king and almost the whole of the Sacred College, he returned to Rome (17 January, 1377). Catherine spent the greater part of 1377 in effecting a wonderful spiritual revival in the country districts subject to the Republic of Siena, and it was at this time that she miraculously learned to write, though she still seems to have chiefly relied upon her secretaries for her correspondence. Early in 1378 she was sent by Pope Gregory to Florence, to make a fresh effort for peace. Unfortunately, through the factious conduct of her Florentine associates, she became involved in the internal politics of the city, and during a popular tumult (22 June) an attempt was made upon her life. She was bitterly disappointed at her escape, declaring that her sins had deprived her of the red rose of martyrdom. Nevertheless, during the disastrous revolution known as “the tumult of the Ciompi”, she still remained at Florence or in its territory until, at the beginning of August, news reached the city that peace had been signed between the republic and the new pope. Catherine then instantly returned to Siena, where she passed a few months of comparative quiet, dictating her “Dialogue”, the book of her meditations and revelations.
In the meanwhile the Great Schism had broken out in the Church. From the outset Catherine enthusiastically adhered to the Roman claimant, Urban VI, who in November, 1378, summoned her to Rome. In the Eternal City she spent what remained of her life, working strenuously for the reformation of the Church, serving the destitute and afflicted, and dispatching eloquent letters in behalf of Urban to high and low in all directions. Her strength was rapidly being consumed; she besought her Divine Bridegroom to let her bear the punishment for all the sins of the world, and to receive the sacrifice of her body for the unity and renovation of the Church; at last it seemed to her that the Bark of Peter was laid upon her shoulders, and that it was crushing her to death with its weight. After a prolonged and mysterious agony of three months, endured by her with supreme exultation and delight, from Sexagesima Sunday until the Sunday before the Ascension, she died. Her last political work, accomplished practically from her death-bed, was the reconciliation of Pope Urban VI with the Roman Republic (1380).
Among Catherine’s principal followers were Fra Raimondo delle Vigne, of Capua (d. 1399), her confessor and biographer, afterwards General of the Dominicans, and Stefano di Corrado Maconi (d. 1424), who had been one of her secretaries, and became Prior General of the Carthusians. Raimondo’s book, the “Legend”, was finished in 1395. A second life of her, the “Supplement”, was written a few years later by another of her associates, Fra Tomaso Caffarini (d. 1434), who also composed the “Minor Legend”, which was translated into Italian by Stefano Maconi. Between 1411 and 1413 the depositions of the surviving witnesses of her life and work were collected at Venice, to form the famous “Process”. Catherine was canonized by Pius II in 1461. The emblems by which she is known in Christian art are the lily and book, the crown of thorns, or sometimes a heart–referring to the legend of her having changed hearts with Christ. Her principal feast is on the 30th of April, but it is popularly celebrated in Siena on the Sunday following. The feast of her Espousals is kept on the Thursday of the carnival.
The works of St. Catherine of Siena rank among the classics of the Italian language, written in the beautiful Tuscan vernacular of the fourteenth century. Notwithstanding the existence of many excellent manuscripts, the printed editions present the text in a frequently mutilated and most unsatisfactory condition. Her writings consist of
the “Dialogue”, or “Treatise on Divine Providence”; a collection of nearly four hundred letters; and a series of “Prayers”.
The “Dialogue” especially, which treats of the whole spiritual life of man in the form of a series of colloquies between the Eternal Father and the human soul (represented by Catherine herself), is the mystical counterpart in prose of Dante’s “Divina Commedia”.
A smaller work in the dialogue form, the “Treatise on Consummate Perfection”, is also ascribed to her, but is probably spurious. It is impossible in a few words to give an adequate conception of the manifold character and contents of the “Letters”, which are the most complete expression of Catherine’s many-sided personality. While those addressed to popes and sovereigns, rulers of republics and leaders of armies, are documents of priceless value to students of history, many of those written to private citizens, men and women in the cloister or in the world, are as fresh and illuminating, as wise and practical in their advice and guidance for the devout Catholic today as they were for those who sought her counsel while she lived. Others, again, lead the reader to mystical heights of contemplation, a rarefied atmosphere of sanctity in which only the few privileged spirits can hope to dwell. The key-note to Catherine’s teaching is that man, whether in the cloister or in the world, must ever abide in the cell of self-knowledge, which is the stable in which the traveler through time to eternity must be born again.
Born: March 25, 1347 at Siena, Tuscany, Italy
Died: April 29, 1380 of a mysterious and painful illness that came on without notice, and was never properly diagnosed
Canonized: July 1461 by Pope Pius II
Representation: cross; crown of thorns; heart; lily; ring; stigmata
Patronage: against fire, bodily ills, diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA, Europe, fire prevention, firefighters, illness, Italy, miscarriages, nurses, nursing services, people ridiculed for their piety, sexual temptation, sick people, sickness, Siena Italy, temptations
Sisters and brothers, today we commemorate Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and stepfather of Jesus. This holiday takes place during Lent, a time of fasting and traditionally this holiday is meatless. Saint Joseph plays an important role in the history of the Church since he was married to mother of our Savior. His ancestor was David who was given the promise in the Old Testament that through his seed Messiah will come. Let us take a look at several sentences from 2nd Samuel, chapter 7: 4-5; 12-14, 16:
And it came to pass that night that the word of the Lord came unto Nathan, saying: ‘’ Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the Lord, Shalt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.
As we see the Lord calls David ‘my servant’. Likewise, Joseph was servant of God. And in the New Testament Joseph was also called to serve. We can understand some interesting comparison here. As David was called to build a house of God where God would dwell in – this was related to the material temple. The same way Joseph was called to be a loving and caring husband of the living house of God – Mother of Jesus. Holy Mary was a living house of God. It is written that our bodies are God’s temples. We all, sisters and brothers, are called to be like Mary and to let the Holy Spirit dwell in us, in our hearts. And we should also be like Joseph and be loving people toward our family, friends, and neighbors. What can we learn from Joseph? Was he suspicious? Oh, yes. Was he a judge? O, yes. He was questioning if Mary was honest. He was questioning her virginity. But he let God teach him. Now, is it good to judge our neighbors? Maybe we are all Joseph and maybe our neighbor who we judge may be a Mary? What would you do if you were Joseph? Would you trust your wife or life partner? These are some thoughts we should be thinking about while we pray on this day. Now, let us take a brief look at the New Testament. Romans, chapter 4: 13, 16/18, 22:
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
What is mutual to Joseph and Abraham? After considering these quotes we may conclude that one trait was mutual to these two holy men. It is called righteousness. But what does this refer to? Biblical righteousness refers to our faith in God. We all live in the modern world when we are witnessing lot of injustice, pain, diseases, misfortune on daily basis. We tend to question if there is a god or what god is that god allowing all these things to be happening. But… do we wonder who God might be? Would we love him if there is no pain in the world? Would we trust him if there is no injustice or no suffering? Would we try to find his guilt in something else? Would we unfollow Him if God has an Instagram profile? If God tells today (or posts on Facebook) that a 75-year-old lady from your neighborhood will become mother and you know she used to try to have a baby in the time of her monthly period when she was 20 and 30 and 40, would you trust in that possibility? Would you trust in that God? If God uses social networks would you probably block him? I would. Unfortunately many of us would. And why is that? We lack of faith my dear sisters and brothers. We lack of faith in God. But you know who hadn’t done that – Abraham. And Joseph. And they were both called righteous. Let us learn to have faith like them. Next, I would like to take a minute of your time and take a quick look at Mattew, chapter 1/16;18-21
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
As previously mentioned Joseph was faithful and righteous. But even to him. This was hard to believe. Even harder that it was hard to believe for Abraham about Sara’s pregnancy in her late age. But God, sent him the angel in his dream and these are the words that the angel told Joseph (Mattew 1/24):
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
We can learn from Joseph many things. How to be a caring and loving partner, father, family member. Joseph knew that Jesus was not his biological son. But he was a caring stepfather who loved Jesus. At that old time it was very difficult to accept child which was not one’s biological child. Today we also live in the world where we make differences to our own blood relatives, our own religion, our own nation, tradition. But Joseph teaches us, through his example that everything that belongs to God belongs to all of us. He knew that Jesus was the Son of God. But to Joseph his focus was to love and to serve God. The same way we should love all people regardless of their nationality, skin color, biological parents, natural characteristic and orientation, regardless religious background they were raised in. Let us learn to love and trust God the same way as Saint Joseph did. In the end of this sermon I would like to take one more minute of your time to take a look together at the additional very important aspect of Joseph’s treatment to his family. And here we may learn or remember one additional important life lesson applicable to all of us. Luke, chapter 2/ 41-51:
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Now, let me tell you an interesting fact. Were Joseph and Mary a very religious couple who were every day praying in the temple and not having earthly fun at all? This is amazing thing we often do not think about. They were going to the festival. They were even so careless at the moment of festival euphoria that they lost their own kid, 12-year-old Jesus. Hey, the festival was over and Joseph and Mary got back home without noticing that Jesus was missing. What would you say if your Christian neighbors go to the party, go back home and you hear that they lost their child? And next three days they are wondering where their child is? The last option they think about is – the church? Would you say those are Christian parents? Maybe they lost their child at the party but they love Jesus, they are Christians? I don’t think so. See, there are two types of religious people. Those who are non-stop in the church and pray all the time, they don’t go to festivals or parties. They believe that being a Christian prohibits spending some nice time at the party. But what about the Bible. What we can learn through this example is that – yes we can go to festivals or parties. Remember that in the old times festivals were similar as today’s open-air parties. The same that Holy Mary and Saint Joseph were doing. Just DON’T FORGET JESUS! Don’t go back home after the festival like Joseph and Mary did finding out: ‘Hey, where’s my Jesus?’ Another fun fact and at the same time an amazing fact were the places where this religious couple had been searching this 12-year-old Son. Did they go to the church, temple or holy places? No. They were visiting relatives and friends and not just one or two days but even tree days. Now, would we tend to judge a neglecting couple from our neighborhood? I guess yes, we would. At least I would. But did God judge them? Yet mother of God is the most holy Lady in the world, the most respected one Saint Mary and her husband, Saint Joseph is the righteous holy man. Dear sisters and brothers we are all called to be like Mary and Joseph. Not to be super-Christians. Just let us be like Mary and Joseph. We are not called not to go to the festivals, or parties. But we are called not to LOOSE JESUS! Yet we can learn here where we can find Jesus. He may be and in our relatives’ house (if our relative is hungry or thirsty – there is Jesus in his house, trust me). If our friend is sick and needs help – yes, you found Jesus in your friend’s house. But also you can find him in the temple. What I would pray for you to understand today is that if you feel that you lost Jesus. Remember Mary, remember Joseph. Go to your relative, go to your friend, and go to your neighbor first and then go to the church. You may try to find him in the church building first, too. But don’t forget that he may dwell in the living people. Not just in the buildings made of stone. I pray that we all never loose Jesus and that we all may be like Mary and Joseph.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reading I: 1 Jn 3:22–4:6
Responsorial Psalm: 2:7bc-8, 10-12a
Gospel: Mt 4:12-17, 23-25
Liturgical colour: White.
Today is the Memorial of my Dominican Order Name Saint, that being St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
This particular Saint was given as my order Name Saint because my Bishop noticed there seemed to be many similarities between the life of St Elizabeth Ann Seton and the life of myself. We both share the fact that we have both overcome many life traumas and adversities, but yet, we both always have remained strong of faith regardless of the things life has thrown at us.
Mother Seton founded the first American religious community for women, named the sisters of charity, and so she was a keystone of the American Catholic church. Mother Seton also opened the first American parish school, and the first American Catholic orphanage. All this, she had accomplished by the age of 46, whilst also raising her own five children.
Mother Seton is a true daughter of the American Revolution, she was born on Aug 28th 1774, which was only two years prior to the declaration of Independence.
By both birth and marriage, Mother Seton was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the rich fruits of high society, but this situation wasn’t to last.
Mother Seton suffered the early deaths of both her mother in 1777, and of her baby sister in 1778, but far from letting it get her down, she faced each new ‘holocaust’ as she called it, with a hopeful cheerfulness.
At only aged 19, she married a handsome wealthy businessman named William Magee Seton and they had five children together. But William’s business failed, and he died of Tuberculosis when Elizabeth was aged 30, leaving her widowed, penniless and with five young children to support. Many of her family and friends rejected her when she converted to the Catholic faith in March 1805.
As a means to support her children, mother Seton opened a school in Baltimore which always followed a religious community pathway and her religious order of the sisters of charity was officially founded in 1807.
The thousands of letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her Spiritual life from that of a person of Ordinary goodness, to one of heroic sanctity. She suffered many great trials within her life yet with her strong faith, she overcame them all. Trials of sickness, of misunderstanding, the deaths of her loved ones (mother, baby sister, husband, and even two of her own children), and the heartache of having a wayward son.
St Elizabeth Anne Seton died on January 4th 1821, she became the first American=born citizen to be beatified in 1963, then Canonized in 1975. She is buried in Emmitsburg in Maryland.
Let us pray:
O Father, the first rule of our dear Saviour’s life was to do your will. Let His Will of the present moment be the first rule of our daily life and work, with no other desire but for it’s complete accomplishment. Help us to follow it faithfully, so that doing your Will may be pleasing in your sight.
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
Well Jesus is 8 days old, circumcised, named, and introduced to the world in the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Mary’s work was not done. Mary had the responsibility of raising this child, with all the fun stuff that most new mothers must deal with such as diapers, 2 am feedings, all the childhood illnesses, skinned knees, and bruises. Mary had an ongoing job of raising the son of God. Not much is known about the following years, but I can only assume that Mary cherished and protected Jesus just as any other mother would today or at any time in history. It is said that the bond between mother and child is one of the strongest in the world. There is no stronger bond on earth or in heaven.
The natural bonding which holds together a mother and her baby gives an obvious basis to this unity of Mary and Jesus. But here the unity is more profound. Here the Child is also Mary’s Creator and her Savior. His humanity has been assumed from the first moment of its conception by God the Word who is himself the self-expression of the Father, the Source of all. So, he is his Mother’s Creator. And it is by his gracious anticipation of his own redeeming work as man that Mary, at his birth as before it, is full of grace. So he is her Savior too.
Just as Mary’s motherhood was a mystery to her from the beginning when an angel told her she, a virgin, would conceive, so her motherhood is again a mystery she can only ponder in faith. There is so much that Jesus has – the power to work miracles is but one – that does not come from her. When she asks him to provide wine at the wedding in Cana, he replies, ‘Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ Jesus performs the miracle at his mother’s request, but this event doesn’t fully reveal what the relationship is between Mary and Jesus, because his power to work miracles comes not from his mother but from his Father who is in heaven.
But the words ‘My hour has not yet come’ point us forward to the hour of the cross when Jesus will say to Mary, ‘Behold, your Son.’ It is here that the importance of Mary’s motherhood is fully revealed to us. Her motherhood did not give Jesus the power to work miracles, but it did give him a body in which he could suffer and save us from our sins. The full meaning of the Mother of God is that Mary gave to an invulnerable God of miraculous power, the vulnerability of a body which could suffer, die, and save. And so, we honor her today, because it was she who gave us our Savior, the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God.
At the human, biological level Mary is our precious link to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose birth some 2000 years ago we recall at Christmas. As Jesus did not have a biological father, did not have a wife to be one flesh with, did not have children, then Mary leads us uniquely and constantly to Christ’s incarnation, his taking on of flesh and blood. Far from being a distracting alternative to Christ, devotion to Mary attaches us more firmly to her Son. He is no alien visitor from outer space, disconnected from our humanity.
Let us pray
[in the name of Jesus,
born of a virgin and Son of God]
source of light in every age,
the Virgin conceived
and bore your Son
who is called Wonderful God,
Prince of Peace.
May her prayer,
the gift of a mother’s love,
be your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response,
born of a humble heart
draw your Spirit to rest on your people.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Reading 1: ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59
PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 8AB, 16BC AND 17
Gospel: MT 10:17-22
Liturgical colour: Red.
Today, the day after we have celebrated the joyous birth of Our Lord and Saviour, and after all the enjoyment of festive food and the giving of gifts which we traditionally do at Christmas, and with this being the first time many of us have been able to have any joyous type of occasion this year amid all the covid19 pandemic situation, we now come in total contrast to that of the celebrations of Christmas day, to the Feast of St. Stephen who was the first Martyr to die for his faith in Our Lord.
Throughout the Old Testament we see time and time again, of the faithful being persecuted and often even killed by those without faith. But it’s not just an Old Testament phenomenon. This is what humans can do in their natural and unredeemed state. We as humans don’t like our sins to be pointed out to us. We manage to make ourselves believe that we’re really not all that bad. We work hard to justify our sins and failings. We find the really, really sinful people in history—men such as Nero or Stalin—and we tend to compare ourselves to them and actually start to feel pretty good about where we stand before God because we don’t believe our sins are as bad as those of such people. And that’s when one of God’s faithful workers comes along—someone who, while by no means perfect, is living a life renewed by grace and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit—and suddenly all the illusions we’ve built up about our own goodness are shattered and we get angry. Like Cain, instead of acknowledging our sins and instead of repenting, we torment, persecute, and sometimes even kill God’s people when they show us up.
Jesus weeps over Jews, knowing that they will continue to kill those whom he sends as his messengers. They won’t stop at only Jesus’s messengers, but they will indeed kill our Lord and Saviour himself soon also They won’t heed the warnings. But brothers and sisters, Jesus warns us—the faithful—too. To his disciples he says:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you dear brothers and sisters when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on the Lord’s account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus prepares us for the fact that as we joyfully follow him, and joyfully do the work of his kingdom, and as we witness the great Christmas joy we’ve found in the manger and at the cross—as we live a life of joy before our King—we will face persecution from the world. To submit ourselves to that seems nonsensical. How can we find joy in persecution? We find it there, because when we make Christ our Lord, he gives us that eternal perspective we’ve been hearing about all throughout Advent. Suddenly the things of this world are so much less important. Our focus is on Jesus and on building his kingdom. Our focus is on being witnesses of his new life and taking his Good News to the world. And that change in perspective means that if we can effectively communicate the Gospel to others whilst being tormented or with the risk of even being killed, well then, so be it. Our joy in living in and sharing Christ is greater than our joy in the things of this world—even in life itself, because we know that our share in eternal life is so much greater than anything this world could ever possibly give. But it’s not just about joy. It’s about love too. That’s another theme that is carried throughout the season of Advent. We saw Love Incarnate in the manger yesterday. And now because God has so changed our perspective by loving us, we start loving as he did— if we are indeed true children of God and his faithful servants, we simply can’t help it! And it’s not just that we love God’s Church or that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that we even love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. That’s the hardest command of all for us to obey, but the reason it’s so hard is because we haven’t been perfect in love ourselves. The closer we grow to Christ, the better able we’ll be to live it. But it’s also true that the better we live it, the closer we will be to Christ! It is a never ending circle.
However, we fully know that Living that way is hard. We so often get bogged down in matters of this world. We focus more on life here than we do on life in the Kingdom of Heaven. . We fall back into living in fear instead of living in faith. The witness of St. Stephen should focus our eyes on our Lord and Saviour and on living the life he has given us. No one knows for sure why this feast falls on the day after Christmas, but one thing I’ve realised is that it’s easy to be excited about grace and to live as Christmas people on Christmas Day. But dear brothers and sisters, as humans we’re incredibly fickle, and the next day many forget about being Christmas people and go back to living in fear and in faithlessness. We forget our witness. How often do you come to worship God on a Sunday morning, getting excited about grace, and yet even as you drive home someone on the road does something that makes you angry and you forget all about grace; or you get bad service while you’re out having lunch, and you forget all about grace; or you get a bad news the next morning about your job, and you forget all about grace. The Church reminds us today that being Christmas people requires real commitment on our part and that as much as it’s joyful work, it’s extremely hard work and work that requires truth and devout faith in the promises of God.
The story of Stephen actually begins in Acts Chapter 6. He was among the group of seven men appointed the first deacons by the apostles. They were the servant-ministers of the Church in Jerusalem. Stephen was excited about his work. Acts 6:8 tells us:
Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
He was doing what he was supposed to do as a Christmas person and he attracted attention. The problem was that he attracted the attention of Jews who didn’t like what he was doing. Now, I say “the problem”. That just shows how our perspective isn’t fully where it should be. We see it as a “problem” when we face persecution. We forget that God is sovereign and that he’s working everything out for the good of his people and the spread of his kingdom. Persecution is hard and painful, but it’s still “good”. Remember, Jesus tells us that we find blessing in it. So it was a “problem” that the Jews were upset by what Stephen was doing, but it wasn’t really a problem. God was still in control. We need to keep that in mind in our own lives: Christians don’t have “problems”, we have “opportunities” to exercise our faith.
And Stephen knew that, even as these angry men dragged him before the Sanhedrin and produced all sorts of false witnesses who attested that he was as a blasphemer. He was on trial and it wasn’t going in his favour. And yet even as these men told lies about him, St. Luke tells us that Stephen sat there with the face of an angel—he was peaceful even in the face of condemnation. The one other place in Scripture we hear a description like this is of the face of Moses after he had been with God. Stephen was close to his Saviour and was experiencing the “peace of the Lord”.
In fact, when the high priest gave Stephen a chance to defend himself, what did Stephen do? He didn’t try to explain away the things he had said and done that he got him into trouble in the first place. No. He took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the whole Sanhedrin! He addressed them and started with Abraham and told the story of redemption down through Joseph and Moses. He told them the stories of their fathers who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and then again how God cared for them in the wilderness and drove out their enemies in Canaan to give them a home—and he stressed how all these things were made possible by God and were his gifts. And as he told the story, he noted how over and over the people rejected God—gladly claiming the great things he gave them, but never truly receiving God himself. And with that Stephen brings them right down to Jesus and he says:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:51-53)
He doesn’t pull any punches. He tells them that in rejecting Christ, they’re doing the same things that their fathers had done before them in rejecting the grace of God and in being disobedient. We don’t have time this morning to read Stephen’s full sermon, but I urge you to read through it—Acts 7—sometime this next week. This was a man who was full of passion for his Lord. He was full of passion to share the Good News, even when he was in the lion’s den. What strikes me is how what Stephen does here runs counter to so much of what the Church today tells us to do in terms of evangelism. We’re told today not to be confrontational; we’re told not to talk too much about sin—or not to talk about it all—because that might turn people off; we’re told to focus on the positive; we’re told to witness the Gospel with our lives and that we might get into trouble sharing it with our mouths. Look at what Stephen does! Not only does he live the Gospel, but he speaks it out loud and clear! He confronts these men right for being the religious hypocrites they are. Stephen didn’t just sit there, quietly and say to himself: “I’m not going to bother with these guys. I’d just be casting my pearls before swine.” No, he shared the Good News with them and he did it peacefully and joyfully. And he did it because he was living in the grace and love of Christmas. He knew that these men might never come to know the Saviour but for his witness, but he also knew that if they were truly reprobate, their rejection of his Gospel sermon would simply confirm to them and to the world their rejection of the Saviour, and God would have greater glory in their condemnation. God’s Word never returns void. Stephen knew that.
St. Luke continues the story and tells us their response:
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)
We might read that story and think, “Wow. Stephen certainly had a bad day!” Our eyes are blind to God at his work. Stephen took a faithful stand for his Lord, and even as they got ready to drag him out to be stoned, God granted him a vision of his own glory and of Jesus enthroned beside him. Stephen’s “bad day” was a good day for the Church, because on that day God set Stephen before the rest of us as a witness—a lesson as to what it means to be Christmas people—people of his grace and his love and his power. He showed himself to Stephen so that Stephen could show himself and his faith in Christ to the rest of us.
But Stephen’s story does more than just encourage us to share the Good News and to stand firm in our faith. He reminds us what it means to witness the Gospel in our deeds. Stephen had that vision of the Lord Jesus before his eyes, and so even as these evil men started hurling stones at him, he responded with Christlike love. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, do you remember what he prayed? He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.” To the last Jesus was concerned with the souls and with the eternal state of the people around him—even his enemies. He was an evangelist to the end, even when there were no more words to say to his persecutors and murderers, he was praying for them. And Stephen, with his eyes on Jesus, does the same. There was nothing left to say to these men and there was nothing left for him to do, and so he prayed for them: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Luke tells us that St. Paul was there that day. He was holding coats so that people could do a better job throwing rocks at Stephen. Of course, this is when he was known as Saul—before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and had his life changed forever. The next verse, 8:1, tells us that Paul approved of Stephen’s execution. What we don’t know is what impact Stephen’s loving and gracious response had on Paul’s future conversion. But Luke certainly included this detail for a reason.
Brothers and sisters, Stephen reminds us that we need to be living as Christmas people, not just on Christmas, but each and every day. But he also shows us very dramatically what it means to live in the life and grace of Christmas—especially in light of St. Luke’s note that Paul was there that day. We never know who is witnessing us and how those around us may, or may not, be impacted for the Gospel by what we say and what we do and by how we deal with the circumstances of life. Who would have thought on that day that Saul of Tarsus—Hebrew of Hebrews and member of the Sanhedrin, the man who hunted down Christians and brought them to trial before the Jewish authorities—who would have thought that Stephen’s witness of love and grace that day might change the whole course of Church history as Saul later became Paul, the apostle to the gentiles.
And lastly, Stephen teaches us something about the extreme nature of grace and love and forgiveness. These men were more than just run-of-the-mill enemies. These weren’t just men who didn’t like him or were just angry with him. These were men who saw him as a threat to their existence and wanted to kill him—who did kill him. Stephen didn’t reciprocate their anger. No, he saw them as Jesus saw them: sinful men whom he loved and who would face eternal damnation without the Gospel of love and grace. Stephen knew the love that overcomes a multitude of sins and he knew it because he had experienced it himself through Jesus Christ. St. John reminds us that anyone who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a liar—that you can’t have experienced the redeeming love of God and still hold grudges and hate in your heart against those who have wronged you. Friends, to hold a grudge, to resent the sins of others, to fail to show a forgiving spirit, is to be self-righteous—it’s to ignore what God had done for you! Stephen could look on these angry men with love, precisely because he had himself experienced the love of Christ and God’s forgiveness—and he knew that there was nothing these men could do to him that was as bad as even his own smallest offences against God. God had forgiven him so much—and he realise that so well—that it was a “small” thing for him to forgive these men and to show them love. Lest we think that Jesus and John are just speaking in hyperbole when they tell us to love our enemies, St. Stephen shows us how the love of Christ really does work out in our lives—or at least how it should, if we truly claim to love God and to have experienced his grace and forgiveness.
So remember today: We are a Christmas people, living in the grace and love of God. But remember too that God calls us to be Christmas people every day of our lives and not just in the Christmas season.. The joy of Christmas is something that should permeate every aspect of our lives that we might be witnesses, even to our enemies and even to those who would kill us, of the love and grace that God has shown us through his Son. And so we pray, “Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings for the testimony of your truth we may look up steadfastly to heaven and see by faith the glory that is to be revealed and, filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and pray for our persecutors as St. Stephen your first martyr prayed for his murderers to you, blessed Jesus, where you stand at the right hand of God to help all who suffer for you, our only mediator and advocate. Amen.”
Reading 1: ROM 10:9-18
Responsorial Psalm: PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Gospel: MT 4:18-22
Liturgical colour: Red.
Today we come together to celebrate the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Andrew was Jesus’ very first disciple.
Let us reflect on one of the qualities of Andrew: that quality being his of∙his readiness to respond to our Lord Jesus Christ’s call to follow him.
We hear Andrew’s call story today in today’s Holy Gospel reading of MT 4:18=22. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he notices two brothers, Simon Peter & Andrew, who were engrossed in their daily work of fishing. As Andrew & Peter cast their nets into the sea, Jesus calls to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”
This call must have caught the brothers’ attention. – They must’ve wondered what Jesus could possibly have meant by saying, to be fishers of men. However, Andrew responded wholeheartedly to Jesus’ call.
Andrew followed Jesus – without any reservations or any hesitation – Most likely with a lot of curiosity, but never the less, with total devotion – Andrew immediately left his fishing nets, perhaps letting them sink into the water.
Andrew had a heart which was prepared to hear & to heed Jesus’ call, with all that he had & all that he was. Because Andrew’s heart was prepared for Jesus, he did not have to be in a holy place like in a Church to hear his call, neither did he need to have been going about particularly holy work to perceive Jesus’ call to him. Andrew heard Jesus call in the midst of his ordinary daily life’s work, during his usual routine day, at a moment when he was casting his fishing net out into the waters of the sea.
Andrew was held near to the word as summarized in the 10 Commandments.
The word as condensed by Jesus into the two great commandments,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.
This word – this instruction for living in a way that brings both self & neighbours closer to God – was alive within Andrew’s life – it was on his lips & in his heart.
Jewish people living in Andrew’s time & for centuries before had studied God’s word – they had engaged God’s Holy Scripture – in very active, dynamic, & relational ways:
by reciting it out loud to one another & in groups;
by soaking up the spoken words & paying close attention;
by the struggle that is teaching & learning;
by discussing what this word meant for them in lively, curious, creative, & probing ways.
This encounter with God through the Word — through the living of Scripture in everyday life— enabled Andrew to perceive so much more than the written word which had come to life in him.
Andrew was able to perceive the Word made Flesh, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of an ordinary, routine day.
The word is very near to all of us as Christians and followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The word should be in our mouths and on our lips, & in our heart, our soul, and in our minds for us to observe.
The Word made Flesh, Jesus the Christ, is very near us.. calling us through our sacred scripture…through the bread & the wine of The Holy Eucharist … through the our which share the Peace…through our voices lifted in song, prayer, and praise…through our faces & our personalities in church and in our everyday lives.
May each of us together… learn from Andrew how near these words of God are…how they seek unceasingly to engage & to dwell with us…that we may respond wholeheartedly to Jesus when he calls us…that we may participate together, in community, in the life everlasting.