The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons and reflections of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), illustrated with some of his photographs.
It is appropriate that on this feast of a great Pope, of this wise and holy Steward of God’s household, we should have these ferial readings which both speak of stewardship. Something precious has been entrusted to God’s stewards: it is the Gospel of salvation in Christ, the “sole Redeemer of mankind” (cf Collect). And so, the faithful pastor of the Church is to be a “servant of that Gospel” (Eph 3:7), as St Paul says. He’s been entrusted with a “special grace” (Eph 3:8) of proclaiming Christ as Redeemer to all peoples, all nations. Indeed, he says that even the “Sovereignties and Powers” (Eph 3:10) should learn of Christ as Saviour. This is to say that all creation to the furthest ends of space needs to know the Gospel and to have Jesus Christ preached to them. This kind of evangelising zeal also galvanised the energies of today’s saint. During his 27 year pontificate, Pope St John Paul II made over 104 trips in his pontificate, covering over a million kilometres as he strived to preach the Gospel far and wide.
And the reason he did this was because he understood the needs of our time; he saw and experienced through his life in Communist Poland the hungers of the human heart. As a philosopher he shared our questions and our fundamental human search for truth, for a lasting happiness that satisfies. Thus, as God’s faithful and wise steward who was set over God’s household of the Church, he worked to give to God’s people “their allowance of food at the proper time” (Lk 12:42). This is to say that he fed humanity with the Gospel.
For in a world that is being starved by unenlightened scepticism and emaciated by relativism, St John Paul saw Man’s hunger for truth, his thirst for justice, and his longing for the good. For that is how we are made, with an inherent desire for God. Thus, St John Paul expended his life serving up Christ to the world. As he said: “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question posed by every human life, and the love of Christ compels us to share that great good news with everyone”.
And the Gospel which he proclaimed was rich and full, recovering the splendid truth of Christian morality, defending Life for all persons (especially the most vulnerable), and always rooted in the saving Mercy of God. He summed up the Gospel like this: “the Good News which the Christian communicates to the world is that God, who alone is Lord, is merciful towards all his creatures, loves man with limitless love and has sought to intervene personally in his history by means of his Son Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, to free us from sin and from all its consequences and to make us sharers in his divine life”. This was the Good News he preached in all its fullness. For to give any less, or to attenuate the Gospel would be to abuse the Master’s trust, and to starve the world of what it needs, what rational humankind deserves, namely, the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. As St Paul says, the Gospel preached by Christ’s Church reveals “how comprehensive God’s wisdom really is” (Eph 3:10), and the pastors of the Church have the privilege and duty of making this richness and wisdom known to all.
Even if the Master is delayed – and in the 21st-century it may seem he is much delayed – the Church and her pastors, and indeed, every baptized Christian is called to remain faithful to this calling. Hence St John Paul II called for a “new evangelization”, but at the heart of this evangelization is our own holiness. As St John Paul said in the Great Jubilee Year 2000, “all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness… [For] holiness is offered to all the baptized. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life”.
Much has been given to us Christians, and through baptism we have been entrusted with God’s grace, and given the Good News. Hence, much is expected of us (cf Eph 3:12) as today’s Gospel says. As we contemplate this, let us be encouraged and inspired by the life of today’s saint, and heed his words: “Do not be afraid when life requires sacrifice, do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ, the Cross is the Tree of Life, it is the source of all joy and peace”. Yes, as Pope St John Paul II said on the day of his Papal Inauguration in 1978: “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power” – the power to become saints.
Yesterday we recalled the martyrdom of St Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who died around 107. Today we are reminded once more of the ancient roots of the Church of Antioch as we celebrate the feast of the evangelist, St Luke, who was a Greek Gentile convert from Antioch which, in his time, was the third most important city in the Roman Empire. The diocese of Antioch, which had been founded by St Peter before he went on to Rome and was martyred, was one of the most vibrant centres of early Christianity which had its own liturgical rite. It is called the Syrian rite for Antioch was in the Roman Province of Syria.
Hence, in remembering these saints of Antioch, we recall today the great Christian heritage of the Middle East, especially of the Church in Syria, and we recall how much we owe to their faithful witness to the Truth from the very earliest days of the Church until now.
From the Syrian Christians came the man who would write one of the most beloved of Gospels, thought by many scholars to be authored between 80-90. From St Luke we learn about the Annunciation, the infancy and childhood of Christ, and appearance of the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. From his Gospel too – and only from Luke’s Gospel – do we have the well-known parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. From these unique points alone, consider just how vital St Luke’s Gospel is to our Christian understanding of God and our Catholic practice – there would be no Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, for example! St Luke not only wrote his Gospel but he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. So, from him we have the accounts of Pentecost, the first Council of the Church in Jerusalem, St Paul’s missionary journeys, and the divine call to preach to the Gentiles – Greek-speaking Gentiles such as St Luke himself.
It is wonderful to consider how St Luke learnt of all these things – who did he meet and speak with? Tradition says that he must have interviewed Our Lady, and as we read today, St Paul had also travelled with Luke. It is also thought that Luke was one of the 72 mentioned in today’s Gospel so he would have known Christ personally. But there must have been many others witnesses to the life of Christ and participants in the first decades of the Church who spoke with him. Like an investigative journalist of sorts, it seemes to me that he ordered their eyewitness acounts into a unified account, into the two precious books of Scripture which are handed down to us.
Thus he says at the start of his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Lk 1:1-4).
St Luke, then, was concerned with the Truth concerning Jesus Christ and his Resurrection, and he laboured to make it known to all peoples, to other Gentiles like himself. Some say that St Luke was martyred, thus he gave his life for the truth and witnessed through his death to faith in the Risen Lord.
And this continued to be the witness of St Luke’s fellow Syrian Christians: Antioch itself was beseiged and largely destroyed in 1268 by Muslim Turkish forces. According to Muslim chronicles of the time, every Christian in Antioch was killed or enslaved. And in our time this continues as Islamic aggression and violence against Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere causes new martyrs to rise up and witness to their faith, witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, witness to the Risen Lord whom St Luke wrote about.
May St Luke pray for us our persecuted brothers and sisters and for us that we too will bear faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ day after day.
The great canticle or hymn with which St Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians is sung once a week in the Liturgy, in Vespers. It is very theologically rich, and it presents God’s plan of salvation, a “mystery” (Eph 1:9) that is revealed to us through Jesus Christ, and which it is the duty and privilege of the Church to reveal to all peoples in every generation.
The essence of this mystery is that Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man, unites a universe divided by sin. Whereas the Devil and sin scatters and breaks apart, Jesus unites and gathers together “all things in him[self], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). Hence, unity among peoples, nations, races is a mark of God’s activity and grace. It is to be seen principally in Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, united in one faith and sharing one Eucharist in the one Spirit.
The goal of God’s plan, therefore, is to bring about unity among his creatures, and he does this through his Church in which many members become one body in Christ. The way in which this is accomplished is, as Paul says, through “the riches of [God’s] grace which he [has] lavished upon us” (Eph 1:7f). We are given this grace ordinarily through baptism. It is sometimes called sanctifying grace because it makes us holy, makes us like Christ, the Holy One of God. When we receive sanctifying grace, God is present as divine love, Charity, dwelling in our souls. And if we choose to co-operate with grace so that we choose to love as God loves and love what he loves, then we become more and more like Christ who is Charity made flesh. Thus we say that sanctifying grace makes us holy by refashioning Man in the image and likeness of Christ the Son until we too, in our flesh, show forth the sacrificial love of God, and are like him.
This, then, is how we are united to God in love. So, as St Paul put it, God “destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). For Charity in our soul makes us like Charity himself, Jesus Christ. Our main work as Christians, therefore, is to grow to love more and more like Jesus does; learn to choose the good things that he commands; will what God wills and so be “holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4). This life-long process, in co-operation with sanctifiying grace, is what we call sanctification.
What can disrupt and destroy this process of sanctification? Mortal sin. For, as the name implies, certain serious sins, deliberately committed, are so contrary to divine love and to God’s vision of love which he wants to teach us, that they kill Charity in our souls. Without Charity, our union with God is lost; sanctifying grace also goes, and there can be no salvation, no eternal life without God.
Hence, we need once more, as St Paul says, “redemption through [Christ’s] blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us” (Eph 1:7f). And this is precisely what happens when we go to Confession. For then we stand again under Christ’s Cross and we are washed in his blood, we receive God’s forgiveness, and so, we are given sanctifying grace once more. Through Christ’s great act of divine love on the Cross, Charity, his divine love, once more is given to us, poured into our hearts, and can work in our souls to shape us and transform us until our whole being, body and soul, learns to love like Jesus loves: sacrificially. So, if we co-operate with sanctifying grace, we will be made holy precisely because we learn to love like the Crucified One, we love and desire what Jesus does instead of what we used to. Thus we heard yesterday in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians these striking words: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
This, then, is the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, this is what we are called to, chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4): that Man should learn Charity in co-operation with grace and so become like Jesus Christ, become one with God. Thus we can live for ever; thus we have limitless bliss; thus we are, as Paul says: “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).
St Paul uses this beautiful phrase today: “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). This means that what we believe about Christ and what God has done for sinful humanity through Christ affects what we do, how we behave. Notice that right belief comes first so that our minds are formed and our intellects are focussed on the truth. Consequently, our wills are motivated by right thinking to do the right things, namely, to love as God first loved us. Hence St James also says: “I by my works will show you my faith” (Jas 2:18).
So, to love as God loves means to do certain works, good works. For love is not realized through feelings but through actions. Love for God, then, is shown by doing concrete things for God, whether regular prayer and Mass-going, or serving the homeless and poor, or caring for a sick and elderly person in our community. Each of these good works, if motivated by faith, is thus an expression of love for Jesus Christ. It is, as St Paul says, “faith working through love”. Thus, when Blessed Teresa of Kolkata speaks of serving the poor she says that it is Christ in the “distressing disguise of the poor” whom she serves. When we go out on the streets or to the Mercy Convent to feed the homeless, or even in our ordinary daily encounters with other people, it is Jesus whom we seek and interact with. This is how faith is worked out through love: we see Christ in others and we love him in and through them, in co-operation with God’s grace. Hence, we prayed in the Collect today that God’s grace will “make us always determined to carry out good works”.
The other side of faith motivating our actions is that we will avoid those acts which faith tells us displeases God. Thus Jesus says: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (Jn 14:21). My sins, therefore, reflect how poorly I love God: they are acts which I freely choose to do that are contrary to God’s loving commandments, contrary to God’s wisdom and desire for my truest human flourishing and genuine freedom. Every sin, therefore, implies a lack of faith in God’s Word and a corresponding lack of love for Christ and his commandments. In a contrary manner to good works, sinful acts also show “faith working through love” but they reveal faith in one’s own limited ideas of the good, in what the Media and popular opinion tell us is good, and they reveal a love of self or pleasure or convenience or some lesser good over and above God who is our greatest Good.
This question of what motivates our actions is also at the heart of today’s Gospel. The Pharisees are critcized because their actions, whether of alms-giving or service, are not motivated by genuine love of God and neighbour but by love of self or their status or social conventions. But God’s grace is given to us to free us from these constraints of our culture and of the common mindset (cf Gal 5:1) so that we can love what Jesus Christ loves, and do the good works he commands us. The saint, therefore, as Chesterton says, is “a medicine because he is an antidote” to the poisons of his age. We Christians are called to heal our age, and we do it through our right thinking and our right doing, through orthodox “faith working through [authentic] love”.
Today’s saint, a 16th-century Spanish Dominican who was a missionary in Central and South America and the Caribbean, was quite a transformer. He’s often shown holding a crucifix, but if you look closely you’ll see that this crucifix has the handle and trigger of a gun! It was said that when he was preaching in Spain against the corruption of the conquistadors and their sinful enslavement of the Latin American peoples, someone tried to kill him. A gun was pointed at him, but St Louis prayed and it transformed into a crucifix!
St Louis is also often shown holding a chalice with a snake in it, a symbol of poison. For several attempts were made on his life during his missionary journeys in Latin America and those opposed to his preaching of the Gospel tried to poison him but to no avail. The poison was transformed through his prayers into something sweet and harmless.
A snake, of course, is also one of the striking images used by Jesus in today’s Gospel. But, in fact, the Gospel does not say that faith and prayer transforms things – the so-called “evil” father already knows to give what is good. Rather, Jesus’ emphasis is about an even greater miracle and transformation that grace causes: the conversion of the human heart. Hence the stubborn friend is converted by persistent prayer which calls down God’s transforming grace. And the transformation of the sinful heart so that it becomes good, so that it loves, and so that it has faith in the good God is what Jesus wants to bring about. So, as St Paul said then, God works miracles among us “by hearing with faith” (cf Gal 3:5), and the preacher of the Gospel, the missionary, the saint becomes a collaborator in God’s great work of converting hearts.
Hence St Louis Bertrand was renowned for having converted some 15,000 through his preaching and persistent prayer. But his greatest work of transforming hearts must surely be his 30 years as Master of Dominican novices in his province! Through his prayerful example and patience and perseverance, he transformed novices into Friar Preachers – into men of faith. Loose cannons or guns, so to speak, had to be transformed into crucifixes, images of our loving Saviour.
And so, on his feast day, we pray for our Dominican novices, for their Novice Masters, and ask for his intercession, that God’s grace may transform our hearts, turning the poison in them into sweet love for him.
In August this year I joined some 12,000 Catholic scouts and guides who, over the course of a week, walked on short pilgrimages to the small town of Lisieux where a huge domed basilica stands on a hill overlooking the town. But the grandiose scale of this Shrine, which is necessary because of the hundreds of thousands who flock there every year, is juxtaposed with the central virtue of its Saint. As the verse from St Matthew’s Gospel that is carved on the basilica’s facade explains: “For whoever humbles herself will be exalted” (Mt 23:12). And then, in the tympanum over the central doors, there is a figure of Christ with a child, and this verse: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4). For today’s saint modelled her life on the Child Jesus, and so strived for a humble and simple child-like love for God.
At the age of just 15 in 1887, Thérèse Martin who was born of saintly parents, was given special permission by the Pope to enter the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux. On becoming a nun, she took as her religious name, Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. And these two appellations indicate the core of her spirituality. She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood” in which she looked with child-like confidence at the loving and tender face of God in Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel, discipleship of Christ and living in the joy of the Kingdom means looking towards him who always looks on us with kindness, mercy and love. St Thérèse teaches us to focus on the Holy Face of Jesus and so to love him. As she says: “We have merely to love Him, without looking at ourselves, without examining our faults too much.” So, in the Gospel, the one who “looks back” (Lk 9:62) is the disciple who looks back on his past sins, on his faults and weaknesses, and he is scared by the demands of discipleship; the hard work of plowing over our old lives so that new shoots of a new life in Christ can spring up.
But St Thérèse teaches us to take courage in Christ. It is the courage of a child who is learning to walk in the ways of the new Christian life, learning to live the life of grace. And she says we should not look back on our sinfulness with anxiety but look up to the Holy Face of our Saviour who is here to help us. But we do need to keep looking to him, and keep trying, keep willing to love him and to live as a child of God. Often we stop trying because our pride is wounded, and we cannot stand to be reminded of our failures and weaknesses which is why we need the humility of a child, and confidence in God’s merciful love.
A charming example from St Thérèse’s writing explains this. She says: “Think of a little child that is learning to stand but does not yet know how to walk. In his desire to reach the top of the stairs to find his mother, he lifts his little foot to climb the first stair. It is all in vain, and at each renewed effort he falls. Well, be this little child: through the practice of all the virtues, always lift your little foot to mount the staircase of holiness, but do not imagine that you will be able to go up even the first step! No, but the good God does not demand more from you than good will. From the top of the stairs, He looks at you with love. Soon, won over by your useless efforts, He will come down Himself and, taking you in His arms, He will carry you up… But if you stop lifting your little foot, He will leave you a long time on the ground.”
So today, let us be encouraged on our pilgrimage of Life that takes us not to a domed basilica in a Normandy town but to the high halls of Heaven. Along this journey, let us focus on Christ’s Holy Face. Let us gaze at him with love and allow him to look at us with love during Adoration of the Eucharist after this Mass. And let us also go to Confession for through this Sacrament we take another step up the staircase of holiness, and God comes to lift us up. With every step we take, may St Thérèse accompany us and teach us her little way.
Every semester the chaplains devise a programme of catechesis, faith formation and study for the students who come to St Albert’s. And what we present is not arbitrary but based on prayer and an assessment on what we believe, as your pastors, would help you grow in faith and love for Jesus Christ. This semester, we have in mind Pope Francis’ frequent reminders that we should read and become familiar with the Scriptures: Bible study for Catholics! For through the Scriptures, read in and with the Church, we encounter Jesus Christ. Surely this should be a priority for us? As today’s saint, Jerome, wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” Hence, St Jerome is the patron of Scripture scholars – of all who would study and read the Bible and not just academic scholars. And my hope is that many of us this semester would become scholars, readers of God’s written Word. Hence we have a Bible Study group every Monday and a Faith Talk on the Bible and its theology every Tuesday, both at 8pm. Today, then, is the feast day of the saint who we ask to guide and help us this semester, and throughout our lives, I hope.
But he guides and inspires us, not mainly by teaching us the meaning of Scripture, but by his reverence for the Bible, and his desire to read and learn from the Scriptures. And this was something he came to appreciate, you might say, in his university years – although, of course universities didn’t exist in the 5th-century. But he didn’t start off as a Scripture swot.
Around the 450s, Jerome was studying rhetoric and classical literature in Rome. He was from a rich Croatian family, well-educated, and his family were Christians although he wasn’t yet baptized. And during his time in Rome, Jerome lived what we might call a typical student life. He writes that he was tempted by the worldly ways of the big city, by a plethora of ideas, and by the so-called good times that tempt and distract us all in cosmopolitan cities. But there was another side to him.
While in Rome, Jerome would also go with his friends to the catacombs just outside the city walls. There, Christian martyrs are buried, and there in the hush he could reflect on the faith of his family, a living faith that empowered the martyrs to give up their lives as a witness to the truth of the Resurrection. As a student in Rome, Jerome had learnt Latin and Greek, and so, apart from reading the classics, he began to be fascinated by the Gospels which were written in Greek. For a while Jerome was torn between committing to Christ as a disciple, or remaining in the world but distant from Christ. It is a choice that every Christian faces, and it first comes to prominence when one is a student. St Jerome, too, underwent the struggle that so many of you and your peers may be facing, and we ask him to pray for us that we can choose Christ above all others.
For at last, by God’s grace, Jerome chose to be baptised in Rome, and so, he committed to the Christian life. A passionate man (his writings, some of which are very hot-tempered, make this apparent), St Jerome was not one to do things by halves. He changed his entire life. He left Rome and his family and headed East to study the Scriptures with other scholars. He improved his Greek, learnt Hebrew, and finally went to live as a hermit in the desert so that he could read, fast, study, and pray the Bible. And then he translated the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, a translation called the Vulgate. He would eventually return to Rome, but his dream was to head for the Holy Land, and he would eventually die in Bethlehem, the place where the Word of God took flesh.
Whenever we come to Mass, we come to a Bethlehem for here the Word is made flesh for us both in the Scriptures that are read, and in the Eucharist. For as St Jerome says: “for me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the holy Scriptures are his teaching… When we approach the [Eucharist], if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled [because it is the Body and Blood of Christ]. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed…” Hence, St Jerome calls us to reverence both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist; to come to Mass recollected and prepared to receive Jesus Christ in both the Gospel and the Blessed Sacrament. The people of Samaria “would not receive him” (Lk 9:53). Let it not be so for us but let the Holy Spirit be the true fire from heaven that comes down to inflame us with a desire to know and love Christ, with the same grace that St Jerome had.
"The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men" (Lk 9:44). So, Christ was handed over to captors in order to undergo the Cross, and so reveal the depths of God’s compassion and love for Mankind. In a similar way, today’s saint was delivered into the hands of men, and through this experience he became a great lover of people, especially the poor and downtrodden.
For we celebrate today a 17th-century French saint whose love for the poor was so great that he is called the “apostle of Charity”, and he was made the patron saint of all works of charity. St Vincent was born into a poor farming family in France, and his ambition was to gain high office in the Church in order to raise the fortunes of his family. Unusually – and he must have been very talented – he was ordained at the age of 19, and he might well have advanced in his plans. However, at the age of 24 he was delivered into the hands of men. And this would save his life, in fact, for otherwise he would have gone the way of many other ambitious clerics whose motivations were more self-serving than loving.
While on a voyage from Marseilles, Vincent was captured by Muslim pirates and auctioned as a slave in Tunis. His enslavement lasted two years and during that time his Master’s Muslim wife questioned him about the Faith. Eventually she converted and St Vincent was able to escape in 1607. He made his way to Paris, and with the help of a spiritual director he began to undergo a gradual conversion of heart. Although Vincent became chaplain to rich and influential families, he didn’t use his position to advance himself but he encouraged the rich and powerful to serve the urban poor and to collect funds to found hospitals, support missionaries to the poor in the countryside, and to ransom galley slaves. He would eventually co-found the Daughters of Charity, young women who were mobilized to serve in hospitals, prisons, set up orphanages, schools, soup kitchens, and homes for the mentally ill. Until this day their motto is “the charity of Christ impels us”.
Impelled by charity, St Vincent went on to become chaplain to the galley slaves, and then he founded the Vincentians, a congregation of priests bound by religious vows who were dedicated to serving in poor villages and small towns. In doing so, though, St Vincent showed the depths of his love by voluntarily delivering himself into the hands of men, namely the poor. Thus he said: “The poor are our masters, we are the servants”. As the servant and apostle of the poor, then, St Vincent worked until his death in Paris on this day in 1660.
He was so widely admired that during the French Revolution, as churches were ransacked and religious images were destroyed, his statues were left untouched. Indeed, there was even a feast day dedicated to him in the French Deistic church that was established in the wake of the Revolution; a feast of Theophilanthropy. His universal appeal because of his renowned charity, compassion, humility, and generosity continues. He not only inspired the St Vincent de Paul Society (founded in 1833) which does so much for the poor of our time, but the Anglican church also celebrates the feast of St Vincent de Paul. So, may St Vincent pray for us that all peoples may be united in serving the poor and so find Christ, the source of all Charity.
Jesus truly died, was buried, and rose again from the dead. And the risen Lord Jesus was seen by hundreds of people, individually and in large crowds. Although the actual event of Christ’s resurrection wasn’t seen by anyone, the person of the risen Christ was seen by many including St Paul; he is an eyewitness. Some eyewitnesses had already died but many of these eyewitnesses would go on to become witnesses in another sense: they would become martyrs, a word which comes from the Greek marturia meaning ‘witness’. By willingly suffering and dying rather than to deny the truth they’d seen – the truth that Jesus Christ died and rose again – the eyewitnesses witnessed to the fact of Christ’s Resurrection and their belief in the word of the risen Lord Jesus. For he promised that all who believe in him and receive his Body and Blood will also, at last, rise from the dead and share in the glory of his Resurrection.
This is the Gospel which was preached to the Corinthians, and which was preached to us, and it is for ever true and valid no matter how long ago it happened. Like the Christians of Corinth, we today, and Christians down the ages and in every place, have always needed faith. Faith, as St Thomas says, is belief in the testimony, the witness, of some human being. This means that it requires that we trust what others have told us they’ve seen and experienced. Ultimately, St Paul appeals to the Corinthians to trust in the hundreds of eyewitnesses including himself, which is why he says that some of those eyewitnesses are still alive, implying that if one wanted to one could check with them.
But St Thomas, following St Paul, makes a distinction between believing through faith and knowing by sight. The latter is more certain knowledge, and only some have seen the risen Lord; the rest of us have to believe them, we have to put our faith in what they’ve seen and what they’ve told us. In short, we believe what we receive through the proclamation of the Church, the community of believers who can trace their lineage in unbroken continuity to the apostles, the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, and also to the saints and martyrs, the witnesses of Christ’s promises.
The Church, therefore, is essentially a community built on trust, on faithfully handing on what we’ve received; this is the dynamic of faith. But we’re not passive recepients of the faith, either. For faith is a divine gift, and the Holy Spirit also stirs up in us charity, which is how our faith in the risen Lord is lived. Charity, after all, is a participation in the vibrancy of the living God, and it is Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, who thus makes it possible for us Christians to rise from the deadliness of sin through forgiveness, through loving our enemies, and to find new life through repentance and good works. Which ever country we come from, or live in, we Christians are called to witness to this; to live our faith.
Today’s saint, John Macias, a Spainiard who travelled to Peru and joined the Dominicans there, is an outstanding example of this. As a lay brother, he was the porter of his convent, and he spent his days welcoming the destitute, feeding the hungry, and praying for the most needy, especially the souls in Purgatory that they might soon enjoy the glory of the Resurrection. As such, St John witnessed to the truth testified by St Paul and the eyewitnesses – he bore witness to the Church’s faith in the Risen One. Through his life, then, and by his works of charity, he witnessed to the fact that the Church is a community built on trust – faith in the word of another –; a community founded on personal relationships of love and kindness, and he added his voice to the countless saints and martyrs of every nation and age who bear witness to the power of the risen Lord.
This is the democracy of the communion of saints; the power of charity that is made available to us through Christ’s Church and her sacraments, the true meaning of freedom which is the choice to love and live as Christ did. Ultimately, this is the only Yes or No choice that matters. With St John Macias and all the saints, let us always bear witness to our faith in the risen Lord and live in the hope of eternal life.
In an age, and particularly at this time, perhaps, when we are enundated by words – by political spin, politically-correct jargon, advertising slogans, and professionally-managed speeches – we can, perhaps, become wary of words and eloquence. The worth of fine words and orations that promise so much is more like pyrite, fool’s gold, than true gold. So, we look for integrity in the speaker – can he live as he preaches, and deliver what he promises?
Hence today we honour a 4th-century bishop of Constantinople who was not only hailed as chrysostom, the golden-mouthed one, because of his eloquence and great sermons, but more importantly he lived a life of integrity and steadfastness to Christ. Thus, we hail him as a saint. For as Christ says in today’s Gospel: “the good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good… for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).
For beautiful words and clever thoughts are not what brings one closer to the Lord but rather a life lived in obedience to his Word, in conformity with the one who is Good. As we would say, “actions speak louder than words”. So, the integrity of St John’s life is shown in “the experience of suffering” he endured for preaching the truth, and for his “invincible patience” in exercising his duties as a bishop, as today’s Collect says.
So, as Patriarch of Constantinople, the corrupt and lavish imperial capital of the Byzantine empire, St John called on the courtiers and the rich to turn from vanity and ambition and to have a care for the poor. He also reformed the clergy and reprimanded them for their moral laxity, and he disciplined the monks who wandered the streets and made a nuisance of themselves. As bishop, he lived an austere and simple life, and fed the homeless and cared for the sick. But his sermons won him enemies among the powerful and rich – both in the Church and in the court. In particular the Empress Eudoxia was disturbed by his moral exhortations, and so she conspired to have him deposed as bishop, and finally exiled. Despite attempts by the Pope to save him, St John was exiled on a long march to the furthest end of the empire where he finally died of exhaustion in 407, a martyr for preaching and teaching the truth.
But St John never relented, never sought the expedience of keeping his mouth shut even in the face of such formidable opposition. Why? Because his heart was filled with Christ’s Word – this was the good treasure of his heart – and from this abundance he spoke. It was an abundance of love for the salvation of souls that moved him to rebuke clergy and courtiers for their immorality; an abundance of love for the poor that moved him to speak up for the vulnerable and forgotten destitute, but above all, an abundance of love for Jesus Christ and his will. Hence in one of his most famous sermons, St John Chrysostom says: “Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best”. Or as Our Lord says in today’s Gospel: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46).
So, let us do as Jesus tells us. We do this today by celebrating the Eucharist which he tells us to do in memory of him. As we do so, and receive Communion worthily, we are filled with the abundance of his grace, a great treasure is laid in our hearts. As it did for St John Chrysostom, so too may this grace transform our hearts that it may produce good – both in deed and in word – making us more like Christ who alone is Good.