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 of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
Today’s Gospel speaks of Christ’s mission to his apostles, sending them out to preach the Gospel and to bring God’s healing and saving grace to all peoples. From that moment countless others have followed in their footsteps as missionaries, and many have endured hardship and persecution, rejection and even death for the sake of the Gospel. And this is still a reality in these days.
But today we’re honouring the first martyrs of the Far East. In 1549, the great Jesuit missionary, St Francis Xavier had brought the Faith to Japan, and Christianity received a welcome so that by 1587 there were around 200,000 Catholics in Japan. That’s about 5,263 converts a year, or 14 a day! But in that same year the Emperor outlawed the Faith. However, numbers kept increasing so that in 1596 when a violent persecution began there were almost half a million Catholics in Japan. The 5th of February 1597 saw the sacrifice of Japan’s first Christian martyrs: 17 Japanese and Korean catechists, 6 Spanish Franciscans, and 3 Japanese Jesuits; 26 in total. The most prominent among them was St Paul Miki who was aged around 30 and who was being trained as a Jesuit priest.
The martyrs were all executed in Nagasaki, and they were disfigured, then paraded through the streets to terrify the local people into abandoning Christianity. But the 26 sang the Te Deum, an ancient hymn of thanksgiving and victory as they walked to their death. Then they were crucified, and killed with a lance in their sides. Even then, the martyrs continued to sing, and they sang the Benedictus which we sing every morning at Morning Prayer. Thus, they offered to the Christians of their time and to us today a brave witness to their faith in Christ as the Saviour of all; to their hope of his resurrection; and to their love for God and their fellow Japanese.
As St Paul Miki said: “The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain”.
In order for the blood of these martyrs to be fruitful, let us today hold fast to the one true Faith they preached: that Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And let us be inspired by them and their love for Jesus, and ask for the grace and courage to preach the Gospel to our fellow countrymen today, and to be faithful in our daily living out of the Faith. It is unlikely that we will be killed for doing this as the Martyrs of Nagasaki were, and as so many other missionaries around the world currently are, but the New Evangelization and being a faithful Christian will involve a sacrifice; it will cost us. So, we look to the martyrs to encourage us and to pray for us.
As Pope Francis says: “We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel… Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness… These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day.” (Evangelii Gaudium, §264).
Today’s readings contrast two different crops with two fruit, both begin small - barely noticeable - and grow into something large and encompassing.
David reaps a harvest of deception and death because of his sin with Bathsheba. It begins small, with a chance event. The prophet writes quite casually: “It happened, late one afternoon…” And David sees Bathsheba bathing. He could have looked away, but instead, he lingered and took pleasure in the sight of Bathsheba’s beauty. So, the seed of desire is planted. And he waters this seed by inquiring about her; he wants to possess more of her, beginning with knowledge of who she is. And once he has this, he abuses his royal power. As we read: “He sent messengers, and took her”. And so, the small seed of an impure glance, becomes sexual desire, which is fanned into adultery. And to complete his sin, and reap its harvest of death, David finally arranges for Uriah’s death, so that he could take Bathsheba as his wife, and she could bear his son legitimately.
Our sins often start small, barely perceptible, but if we’re vigilant we can nip it in the bud, choosing to turn away rather than to entertain what begins as just a seemingly harmless glance. We can choose not to cultivate the crop of sin just as, at each stage, David could have done otherwise than to allow his impure desire to grow and develop until it bore the corrupt fruit of murder.
The following words from today’s saint, John Bosco, who was a beloved and gentle educator of poor youth in 19th-century Italy, could have been said about king David: “Some people think that they can pacify evil passions by giving in to them. This is a mistake… Our evil inclinations are like snarling dogs, nothing will satisfy them. The more one panders them, the more they demand.”
So, the Gospel today shows us that there is another crop we should cultivate. And it also begins small, and barely perceptible to begin with, but can grow enormous and change our lives, giving us eternal shelter within it. It is the seed of Christ’s grace planted in our hearts through the sacraments, and God’s grace grows so that we can rest in God’s goodness and enjoy his friendship. As St Paul says, “the kingdom of God… is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
We cultivate this crop and allow it to grow by weeding out the sinful desires and habits that would choke it, by not allowing the small seed of sin to grow. Thus St John Bosco said: “Do you want to banish evil thoughts? Control your sight, taste, and hearing. Give up certain kinds of talk and books. This is the only way you will still your passions, be victorious, and enjoy peace of mind.” Now, controlling our desires, changing our habits, will require effort on our part. But we should not rely just on our will power but rely even more on God’s grace. All we need to do is to go to Jesus in prayer, in humility, in faith, and receive the graces he wants to give us to help us root out sin and to grow in his love.
As St John Bosco said: “Do you want Our Lord to give you many graces? Visit Him often. Do you want Him to give you few graces? Visit him seldom. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are powerful and indispensable means of overcoming the attacks of the devil. Make frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the devil will be powerless against you.” Let us heed his advice!
Today we hear that Jesus appointed his apostles, and they are “to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mk 3:14). These words are so apt on the feast day of today’s saint, who was a successor of the apostles as Bishop of Geneva from 1602-22. Like the first apostles, St Francis de Sales did these three things mentioned by St Mark.
Firstly, the apostle is called to be with Christ. That is, he is called to be close to Jesus Christ, to know him and love him. St Francis called this being with Christ the ‘devout life’, and he was adamant that it was not just apostles, bishops and priests, monks, friars and nuns who were called to this, but every Christian. For, he says: “truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there”.
His most famous work, The Introduction to the Devout Life was thus a well-loved guide for all people in whatever walk of life who wanted to grow in friendship with God. If there is only one spiritual book you would read, I will recommend this, and it is freely available online. Through his attractive and sensible writing, St Francis helped countless Christians to live a devout life that is “adapted to the strength, life-situation and duties of each individual”. Truly, this Doctor of the Church has helped so many Christians to “be with Jesus”.
What happens in the devout life, as we spend time with Christ in prayer, by treasuring the word of God, and through receiving the sacraments, is that we know we’re loved by God. This is what being with Christ does: it roots us in his love for you and me. So, St Francis said: “Prayer is opening our understanding to God’s brightness and light, and exposing our will to the warmth of his love”. At the heart of all prayer and devotion is the Mass. As St Francis says: “Prayer united to this divine Sacrifice has a power beyond words… therefore, do your best to attend Holy Mass every day”. But, at the same time, he adds with great understanding that if we really cannot go to Mass because of “some unavoidable reason [then] at least take your heart there so that you attend by a spiritual presence”.
Having been rooted in Christ’s love, the apostle is then sent out as a witness to preach this love which he has experienced and known. So, St Francis was a great writer and preacher of the Gospel, and his words were renown for being so gentle, humble, and kind that he was called ‘The Gentleman Saint’ even by the Calvinist Protestants of Geneva who opposed him. Thus St Francis said: “we gain nothing by being rough in our dealings”… so, “I am firmly determined to change, by my gentleness, the attitude of those who insult me. I shall try to meet them that very day in order to greet them in a friendly way. In case I do not come across them, I will at least speak well of them and pray to God for them”. In this gentlemanly way, St Francis de Sales won over many people, and successfully preached Christ’s Gospel with love and courtesy.
Which bring us to the third task of the apostle. The work of the demons are to bring about division, anger, dissension, and error. St Francis, then, strived to expel the demons by counteracting their work with truth and love. Hence, St Francis said: “In your speech be gentle, free, sincere, straight forward, simple and truthful”. Moreover, he said that “Humility makes us perfect towards God and gentleness towards our neighbour”, for “humility drives away Satan”, while gentleness attracts others to God. And these twin virtues, I think, sum up the life and example of St Francis de Sales, who is one of my favourite saints.
May he pray for us all, that we, too, may live the devout life, and be faithful witnesses to the world of Christ’s love and truth.
St Mark’s Gospel has opened with a very full day’s work for the Lord. Right after calling his first disciples, he enters a synagogue and teaches, and then he casts out demons, and “immediately” after, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. All this has happened in one day, it seems, and at last we’ve come to the evening and still “the whole city” comes, and Jesus heals many and casts out demons from many. But after all this activity, Mark lets us into a precious glimpse of Jesus’ life.
“And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (Mk 1:35). For prayer grounds all the work that Jesus does; it’s not a luxury but a necessity. We see this, too, in the lives of the saints. For example, one of today’s saints, Francis de Capillas, who was a Dominican missionary to China and the first martyr of China, was well-known for being tireless in preaching the Gospel and for his many apostolic works. But even when he was imprisoned before his execution in 1648, he spoke of the necessity of prayer to ground the preaching he did in prison. He said: “I am here with other prisoners and we have developed a fellowship. They ask me about the Gospel of the Lord… They do not let me stay up at night to pray, so I pray in bed before dawn. I live here in great joy without any worry, knowing that I am here because of Jesus Christ”.
This testimony is striking because it reminds us of Christ himself who was kept up the whole evening ministering to the “whole city” who’d come to him. So, he had to rise hours before dawn and find solitude to be with the Father in prayer. And these details from St Mark suggest that silence is vital for prayer. Likewise, the Lord spoke to Samuel in the silence, many hours before dawn. For it is only in the silence that one can hear and listen.
For anyone who wishes to do God’s work and to serve him needs to listen; to do as Samuel says: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sam 3:10). Very often when we come before God in prayer, our mind is busy with distractions and worries, or we may have so much we want to tell the Lord. And so, we should bring these concerns to God. However, it is vital, too, to quieten our hearts and minds so as to listen, and to allow for an intimate solitude with God in which he can speak. Thus Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium that “Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur” (§171).
As with any relationship, learning to listen to the other takes time and patience. Do we make that time for God, for prayer? And what the Holy Father has in mind is listening to God through a meditative, prayerful reading of the Scriptures. In particular, he points to the Liturgy. He says: “God’s word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life” (§174).
So, this year, let us make an effort to make time to be with God in silence, and to be patient with him and with ourselves, too, as we pray and listen for his voice. Let us come away from the busy activities of each day, or at the end of our work to listen to God’s Word in the Mass; to find an intimate solitude with our Father, and to spend time with our Lord present in the Eucharist. Here Jesus is present to love us, to heal us, and to silence all that disturbs us. Let us come before him, then, and say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears”.
Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Lord’s baptism, and we recalled how through the sacrament of baptism men and women are transformed by the grace of Christ, the beloved Son, so that sinners become beloved sons and daughters of God. So today, the Church in Scotland rejoices in one of her beloved sons, St Kentigern, who is often known by an affectionate name given to him by the monk who raised him: Mungo, which means ‘dear one’; beloved one.
He was born around 518, the son of a British princess called Teneu, and he ended up in a monastery in Fife where he was raised and probably ordained a priest. At the age of 25 he begins his missionary activity on the river Clyde and establishes a base by the banks of the river. Just as Christ came to the waterside to call his apostles to become fishers of men, so St Mungo, apostle of Strathclyde was also called from the waterside to preach the Gospel of salvation to the people of this region, and, no doubt, he baptised them in the river. So it was that a community of Christian converts grew up around his little church which became known as ‘Clasgu’ meaning ‘dear family’. For here were the newly-baptised, the dear family of Christ; the beloved sons and daughters of God gathered around their dear bishop Mungo. For around 540 St Kentigern had been ordained a bishop – the first bishop of Glasgow.
However, his missionary activities met with strong and violent opposition around 553, so he was forced to retreat to Wales where he founded a monastery, but around 581 he was able to return to his dear family in Glasgow when a Christian king had gained power of that region. St Mungo died on this day in 603 and over the site where he is buried rose a great cathedral named after him. His relics are believed to still rest there in a 13th-century crypt, and his words have, in part, become the motto of Scotland’s largest city: “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word”.
Hence today we celebrate one of Scotland’s apostles, a true fisher of men who responded to Christ’s call to preach his Gospel and baptize many into God’s dear family of the Church. Each of us, in fact, is a Mungo, a dear one of God, who is likewise sent out on a mission to call the people around us to join God’s dear family here in this chaplaincy. Let us keep this mission in our hearts this new year and this semester.
But there is another mission which today’s feast day calls to mind. There are few other details about St Mungo’s life, but one thing gave me pause for thought. Many sources say that St Mungo was an illegitimate child. And the earliest account of his life reports that his mother Teneu had been raped. Despite the trauma attached to this, and the horrible fact that her father then threw her down a cliff, she survived. And, by God’s grace, she bravely and heroically carried the child in her womb to birth; she, rightly, chose to give him life. Thus Teneu herself is venerated as a saint, and she became the mother of one of Scotland’s greatest saints. So, St Mungo’s mother offers us a saintly witness for our time, inspiring us to support unwed mothers, and to speak up in defense of all God’s dear ones, particularly the innocent unborn child.
May St Teneu and St Kentigern pray for us as this new semester begins.
Raymond of Penyafort (near Barcelona in Catalonia) lived for a century, and he gave half of his life to the Dominicans, joining when he received what we’d term a ‘late vocation’ at the age of 47. By then he was already a celebrated professor of canon law at Bologna University, and many more vocations followed in his wake. One of Raymond’s first projects was to co-found the Order of Our Lady of Ransom, which set about to redeem Christians enslaved by the Muslims. And this idea of liberation is central to Raymond’s life and mission.
Because he is most noted by the Church for two accomplishments. Firstly, for his redaction and compilation of church law in 1234 called the ‘Decretals’, a monumental work which was used for the next 700 years as a basis for canon law. Thus, he is patron of canon lawyers. But he is also remembered for a work intended as an aid for priests hearing confession, and Raymond was so respected as a confessor that he was both confessor to the pope, and the king of Spain. Confession, we know, of course, to be a work of God’s mercy and liberation; in this sacrament we experience Christ’s redemption of us, freeing us from our slavery to sin and the devil.
Although we may not think it, the exercise of canon law is also a work of liberation. Why? Because canon law has one great aim, which is to foster the salvation of souls, i.e, to facilitate our redemption in Christ. The law of the Church, then, is the structure - the bones - on which we can build the edifice - the flesh - of our Christian lives. The law orders the ways in which we Catholics live and work together in our common mission of making Christ and his redemption known. And if we keep this in mind always, then law is liberating, and enables us, as the Body of Christ, to be a communion of love.
The relationship between law and the freedom to love may not always be evident to us, but it is also manifest in our readings. St John says today: “Let us love one another” (1 Jn 4:7), and just a few verses previously: “[T]his is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23). But what does this mean? We cannot really be obliged to love another, or commanded to trust and believe in Christ. Rather, the commandment, the law, acts more like a structure, a foundation on which to build something good. But the will to do this, to act well, has to come out of our own desire. It has to come from our freedom to choose that which the human heart is inclined towards, namely the good, the true, and the beautiful. As such, sheer legal positivism is insufficient; in fact, this kind of legalism is a failure. Rather, good law is the kind that serves the flourishing of the human person and the common good. It facilitates the satisfaction of our deepest desire, which is communion with Christ, and with one another. It serves to make it possible to love God and neighbour, and to express this one love through the virtue of justice.
In St Raymond, we praise a man who was first of all a lover of God, and of his neighbour, and it is this love that made him a wise and respected canon lawyer and confessor; a liberator. After all, It is not for his learning and canonical skills that he was canonized, but for his charity, which is the goal and perfection of all canon law, indeed, of all the commandments. Hence, as we prayed in today’s Collect, “Love is the fulfilling of the law…”
These past few days are, for so many people, precious time to spend with family and friends. Hence we began the New Year, too, with Mary, who is Mother of God but also our mother, our family. And today, we look to friendship, celebrating the feast of two friends from Cappadocia; doctors of the Church who worked together to challenge the Arian heresy.
At Christmastide, when we ponder the Incarnation, it’s worth recalling the truth that these saints defended: that Christ was fully divine as well as fully human. Only then could we receive what Jesus has promised us, as St John says, namely, eternal life (cf 1 Jn 2:25). So, St Gregory says: “He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh… We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live”.
From a common love for this truth, a love for the true person of Jesus Christ, and from their common friendship with him, came their life-long friendship with one another. Indeed they were such firm friends from the time they first met as students in Caesarea around 340, that the Church, rather unusually, honours them both on the one same feast day. This is fitting since St Gregory describes their friendship like this: “We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit”.
But their closeness, their love and friendship for one another flowed from their love for Christ, and their common desire to know, love and befriend Christ strengthened their friendship with one another. So, St Gregory said: “When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper. The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning… Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come”. For the friend of Christ desires virtue because he wants to please him, to imitate him, and to love what he loves.
These are the characteristics of genuine friendship: to share interests and loves. And in the case of St Basil, this was marked by a great love for the poor because they are so well-loved by Christ, indeed, they are Christ. So, as bishop of Caesarea, St Basil began a huge project to feed the poor and help the sick and needy. And his teaching, which expresses the Church’s own social teaching about our duty to share with the needy what is theirs by right, are as striking and powerful as ever. He said: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit”. But this makes sense if the poor are Christ, our dearest friend. Why would we not help?
As a new year begins, and we have our goals and pursuits for 2014, we’re invited to pause and to look at these two friends; these saints who were ardent for truth and wisdom and also friends to the poor because they desired, above all else, to be friends of Jesus Christ. As St Gregory said: “Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians”. If we haven’t yet, perhaps we can make this our resolution too?
Today is a day of beginnings. It’s the first Sunday of Advent – the beginning of a new liturgical year. And today we also rejoice with Victoria and Sascha at another signifiant beginning – the baptism of their son Emil Louis-Christophe. And, so, it is fitting that at the start of the Church’s year we are reminded of the start of our Christian journey. It is fitting, too, in Advent that we rejoice. For this is not so much a penitential season as a quiet season of joyful expectation; a time in which we hope to “go rejoicing into the house of the Lord”, not just on Christmas day, together with the shepherds and wise men, but also on the final day, at the end of Life’s journey. We hope to go rejoicing, with the angels and saints, into the eternal house of the Lord, into eternal life with God in heaven. For this is the destination of the Christian journey, and it begins for each one of us with baptism. Hence, when Victoria and Sascha was asked what they wanted for Emil in asking for him to be baptised, they said: “Eternal life”.
The Christian journey is depicted by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading as a pilgrimage up a mountain, up to the “house of the God of Jacob”. The rite of baptism tries to give this sense of journeying too, as we move from the entrance of the church towards the lectern, where God’s Word is read, then to the font, where we are re-born to new life, and finally to the Altar. This is literally the ‘high place’, the mountain of the Lord, where we come to dwell with God and he abides with us through the Eucharist.
Our Christian life is, therefore, never static but is marked by this kind of movement towards God. Inasmuch as it is a journey up a high mountain, so, the Christian life has its struggles and difficulties. We may battle against high winds, occasionally wander off the path, or be distracted by various sights. But, we must move ever upward. In the words of the Dominican saint, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the patron of our scouts, and patron of youth: “Verso l’alto”. We must move ever onwards “toward the top”, to the summit where God awaits us.
But, we do not struggle alone on this journey. Some of us may recall a recent climb up Arthurs Seat, where the wind was so strong that you could lean back into it and it supported one from falling. God’s Holy Spirit, the divine Wind or Breath of God, is like this. He supports us on our Christian journey if we would lean into him, and we are supported, too, by a host of saints and fellow pilgrims, by God’s holy Church. This is the reason Emil is baptised during Mass, so that we can all pray for him, and support him. No one is a Christian alone, and nobody journeys to heaven alone. We do so as members of Christ’s Body surrounded by a crowd of friends and family, by parents and godparents, by brothers and sisters in Christ.
Isaiah says: “Come, let us go up… that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa 2:3). So, on our Christian journey, we will need not just the prayers and support of one another, but we can also learn from one another, especially from the saints. This is why we invoke their prayers in the rite of baptism. The saints have reached the summit of the Christian life, and so, they can show us the way up and help us with their prayers. In this journey, Emil can look to one of his name saints, Christopher, who is patron saint of travellers, for help. The paths that the saints have trodden before us are well-worn but arduous. We may need to lighten our load, and shed unneeded burdens and worldly attachments if we want to walk in their paths. Because the path they take is the Way of the Cross; the mountain they have climbed is Calvary. So, too, each of us can learn from the saints how to walk this way too. It is the way of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is the way of Love.
In modern times, one saint stands out for the way he sacrificed himself for the love of his fellow Man, and in doing so, he clearly reached the summit of the Christian life. His baptism found its goal, its perfection, in his martyr’s death. As he offered his life in exchange for the life of another fellow prisoner in Auschwitz, St Maximilian Kolbe, patron of the pro-life cause, shows us what it costs to reach the summit of the Christian life. It costs us love.
St Maximilian, who is Emil’s special patron because he was born on his feast day (14 August), teaches us the costliness of walking in Christ’s way of love. For love demands sacrifice. But it is precisely this Christ-like love that “shall judge between the nations… so that “nation shall not life up sword against nation [nor] shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:4). Love heals violence, hatred and strife. And the one who follows Christ’s way of love shall “walk in the light of the Lord” (Isa 2:5). This is to say, he will share in Christ’s glory and be raised up to reign with Christ in heaven. For Love endures for ever and is stronger than death.
For many of us, the Christian life may not be so dramatic, but if we are to learn to love, then it will still be costly and demanding. Every day, situations arise which demand a sacrifice, which ask for love, or mercy, or compassion from us. These may be small instances, but many will be unexpected. Hence Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to “be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44). We’re to be vigilant, then, in our Christian life. Or perhaps, we should think of it in an Advent mode. Let us be full of joyful expectation that the Lord could come at any time, and give us opportunities to love, to be kind, to be tender-hearted to him. For Christ is with us in the “distressing disguise of the poor”, as Blessed Mother Teresa said. He is all around us waiting to be recognized, served, and loved. Another of Emil’s name saints, Louis, was thus always attentive to care for the homeless and poor.
Hence, it is here in the Church, which we can truly call “the house of the Lord”, that we learn from the saints how we can walk in the Lord’s paths and find him. It is here in the Church that we support one another with prayer, friendship and love on our Christian journey. It is here in the Church that Man finds his way home to God. So, as Emil is baptised today, he indeed goes “rejoicing into the house of the Lord”!
The Byzantine church calls today’s saint the Protokletos, the first-called. Because St Andrew was the first apostle to respond to Christ’s call to follow him. This is not as apparent in the Gospel we’ve just heard but in St John’s Gospel, we learn that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, and that he was drawn to Jesus when St John pointed to the Lord and said: “Behold, the Lamb of God”. Together with an unnamed disciple, they went to Jesus and stayed with him (cf Jn 1:35-40).
Today, we find ourselves in the place of that unnamed disciple. We hear those words, “Behold the Lamb of God”, and we are invited to go with St Andrew to Christ. But here in the Eucharist, Jesus comes under our roof; it is the Lord who condescends to come to us, to stays and remain with us. Through this sacrament, God dwells in us so that we can abide in him. So, although St Andrew is the first to be called, and the first to respond, each day we too are called; we’re also being invited to respond to God’s grace and do as St Andrew did: to follow Christ and stay close to him. And it is this on-going response, a daily ‘Yes’ to Christ that matters most. For what is remarkable about St Andrew is not so much that he was the first to go to Christ, although this requires great courage and faith. But rather, it is the fact that Andrew remained close to Jesus for the rest of his days, and continued to live with such courage and faith that he willingly suffered the same kind of death as the Lord – crucifixion. In a 6th-century text, The Passion of St Andrew, the apostle says: “Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ… I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you”.
Those words “confident and joyful” bring us back to today’s Gospel. St Matthew is not so much concerned about who was the first to go to Christ, but he concentrates on what being with Christ does. What does following Christ entail? “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). So, it seems that going to Christ and remaining close to him, being friends of Christ, makes us fishers of men, that is to say, evangelizers; people who draw others to Christ. And St Andrew does so with confidence and joy.
This is something Pope Francis spells out at length in his new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. A Christian is someone who has encountered the person of Jesus Christ; someone who has, therefore, experienced the personal love and mercy of God – this is what it means for us to recognize, with St Andrew, that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’. The Christian disciple thus has his life transformed by love and mercy, and his heart is filled with joy, a joy which cannot be contained but must be preached to others as life-changing, transforming good news. So, Pope Francis asks us: “[I]f we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (§8).
But to become a fisher of men means that one has to patiently, gently attract people to Christ. We fish, not with dynamite, but with light in the dark waters. As Pope Francis (citing Pope Benedict) says: “Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction” (§15).
So, today, we have been called with St Andrew to go to Christ. We are being invited to taste the goodness of God here in this sacred banquet, to witness the beauty and wisdom of Christ in the Scriptures, and so to be filled with the confidence and joy of an apostle. For each and every one of us has been called, like Andrew, to follow Christ, to remain close to him, and so, to draw others – the people of Scotland – into the joy of friendship with God.
Music and singing are integral to any celebration. We see this in today’s first reading where the people of Israel rejoice for eight days “with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals” (1 Macc 4:54). They had endured persecution; the Maccabees had fought and suffered; and now they celebrate their victory with music and song.
This is fitting today as we celebrate the feast of St Cecilia who is the patron saint of music. She was a 4th-century Roman martyr who was killed for the Faith. It is thought that she was beheaded in her family home, and it’s still possible to visit the site under the basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome. As she died, Cecilia was said to have sung to God “in her heart”.
So, like the Maccabees, St Cecilia had endured persecution, she’d resisted and suffered – they tried to boil her alive to begin with! – and, then, as she was being killed, she sang. This is quite bizarre if we think about it because Cecilia saw her dying – her martyrdom – as a victory to be celebrated with music and song.
However, the Preface for Martyrs in our Liturgy says the same thing. In the struggle of the martyrs, God gives them “ardour” and “firm resolve” so that they can remain faithful to Christ even to accepting suffering and death, and so, in their death there is “victory” over those who oppose Christ. What is this victory we celebrate, then? It is the triumph of grace, and indeed, the victory of Love. For only love for Jesus Christ can move someone to accept death. So, St Cecilia dies for Truth, for the integrity of her faith, for fidelity to Jesus rather than to renounce him; she dies for love of him.
We find this idea, of dying for love’s sake, quite often in romantic love, especially in what McCartney called “silly love songs”. And St Cecilia’s martyrdom might seem like a version of this kind of love. But is it? Did St Cecilia simply sing a silly love song as she died? Well, the martyr is not just someone totally in love with God and who dies out of fidelity to her conscience, to her love. There is something more, I think, that she witnesses to.
The martyrs’ death is an act of witness to the fundamental Christian belief in the truth that God’s love is stronger than death. This means that we believe and we hope in the final resurrection of our body. We believe that the death of our bodies, even under great suffering, is not the end of life. Because, we believe that the Christian is so united to Christ that even if we die as he did, we will also rise just as he did. Hence the YouCAT says: “Eternal life begins with Baptism. It continues through death and will have no end” (No. 156).
We will rise to eternal life with Christ because Love – God himself – is eternal and Christ, the living Word of God is the final word. His is the song of victory, and so, we too can sing that triumphal song with him. St Cecilia thus died with a song in her heart. Not a silly love song, but a celebratory Easter song. It’s significant that the Jews celebrated their victory for eight days, for Easter is often called the eighth day because it is the day of a new creation, of life after death, of eternal life. So, with Christ, we, who have died with him in baptism, and who have endured the trials and sufferings of this life, shall also rejoice and sing with him for eight days, that is, for all eternity in heaven.
This is what St Cecilia bore witness to. May she pray for us that we may share her faith, her hope, and her love for Christ.