St. Mark the Evangelist

Oil painting:  Saint Mark by Valentin de Boulogne, c. 1624-26

St. Mark the Evangelist (1st c.) was born to Jewish parents living in Libya in North Africa, later settling in Cana of Galilee not far from Jerusalem. Mark became one of the 70 disciples of Jesus and the author of the Gospel that bears his name. According to tradition, St. Peter the Apostle was married to a relative of St. Mark’s father, and after Mark’s father died, Peter looked after him like his own son. Being a close disciple of St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, Mark’s Gospel is addressed to Gentile converts to the Christian faith living in Rome. Most of what we know about his life and missionary activity is recorded in the New Testament. He traveled to Egypt and founded the Church there, and was martyred c. 68 A.D. by being dragged through the streets of Alexandria until his body was torn to pieces. St. Mark is the patron of lawyers and prisoners. His feast day is April 25.

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From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop

Preaching Truth

  The Church, which has spread everywhere, even to the ends of the earth, received the faith from the apostles and their disciples. By faith, we believe in one God, the almighty Father who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became man for our salvation. And we believe in the Holy Spirit who through the prophets foretold God’s plan: the coming of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, his birth from the Virgin, his passion, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his final coming from heaven in the glory of his Father, to recapitulate all things and to raise all men from the dead, so that, by the decree of his invisible Father, he may make a just judgement in all things and so that every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth to Jesus Christ our Lord and our God, our Saviour and our King, and every tongue confess him.
  The Church, spread throughout the whole world, received this preaching and this faith and now preserves it carefully, dwelling as it were in one house. Having one soul and one heart, the Church holds this faith, preaches and teaches it consistently as though by a single voice. For though there are different languages, there is but one tradition.
  The faith and the tradition of the churches founded in Germany are no different from those founded among the Spanish and the Celts, in the East, in Egypt, in Libya and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. Just as God’s creature, the sun, is one and the same the world over, so also does the Church’s preaching shine everywhere to enlighten all men who want to come to a knowledge of the truth.
  Now of those who speak with authority in the churches, no preacher however forceful will utter anything different – for no one is above the Master – nor will a less forceful preacher diminish what has been handed down. Since our faith is everywhere the same, no one who can say more augments it, nor can anyone who says less diminish it.

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Jesus said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (cf. Mk 16:15)

“To many it is given to travel the world or the small circle of home and workplace to proclaim the Good News in word and deed. To four only was it given to collect and cast that news in the unique written books to which we give the title “Gospel.” For this message that continues to reach the four corners of the globe, let us give thanks and praise today.  –  Magnificat, April 25, 2018

Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.

Holy Family pray for us … Amen.

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Call No Man Father

The Catholic understanding of the Priesthood, where priests are called father, is scriptural and consistent with a biblical understanding of Christianity.  That view, however, is a source of confusion for some men and women of good will, especially for our Protestant brothers and sisters.  If pressed about the point even well-intentioned Catholics, lacking a clear understanding of the biblical evidence, have a hard time explaining why we call our parish priest by such a name.  In fact, Jesus’ words are quite clear, as found in Matthew’s Gospel account, when he says, “Call no one on earth your father …” (Mt 23:9).

So why is it that for over two millennia the Catholic Church has continued the practice, highlighting by name and title, that priests are appropriately called father?  The reason may surprise; and a deeper exploration of Holy Scripture reveals the answer to make one thing clear:  It’s scriptural and is deeply rooted in biblical religion.

The ancient Catholic custom of calling priests “father” can be traced all the way back to the Apostles.  Saint Paul’s own teaching on this issue includes an encouragement that Christians would imitate both his good personal example but also his example of referring to himself as their “father.”

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.  For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  I urge you, then, be imitators of me (1 Cor 4:14-16).

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:10-12).

– Patrick Madrid, A Year With the Bible: Scriptural Wisdom for Daily Living

The Catholic Church has always recognized her priests – just as the early Christians recognized St. Paul – as “spiritual fathers.”  Through their ordination into the Priesthood, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they’re recognized as having the authority given to them by our Heavenly Father.  When we read in Matthew 23:9, therefore, “Call no one on earth your father,” Catholics understand the verse means not to honor a man like (i.e. in the same way) you honor God.  The Catholic view understands Jesus didn’t instruct in the literal (or strictest sense of the meaning); that one couldn’t call your dad, or a priest, “father”.  As St. Paul wrote himself, “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15); emphasis added.  Other references to father or fatherhood would include: Acts 7:2-5; Rom 4:16, 9:10; 1 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4; Phlm 1:10.

In other words, Jesus’ statement, “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9: RSV) utilized the common Hebrew method of exaggeration or hyperbole (see Mt 19:24; 23:24; Lk 6:42; 14:26) to teach that God the Father is the ultimate source of all authority.  Interpreting this absolutely literally would prohibit all uses of the word father whatsoever; even biological fathers.  But Jesus Himself uses the term father many times (Mt 15:4-6; 19:5; 29; 21:31; Lk 16:24, 27, 30; Jn 8:56, etc.) … Thus, the objection to calling Catholic priests fathers must be discarded.

A related issue with some critics of Catholicism, is the address, “holy father” as applied to popes (it is claimed that only God could be called that).  All that remains, then, is to find “holy men” referred to in the Bible.  The writer of Hebrews calls the recipients of his epistle “holy brethren” (Revised Standard Version – RSV).  Peter refers to a “holy priesthood” (1 Pt 2:5: RSV and King James Version) and “holy women” such as Sarah (1 Pt 3:5) … John the Baptist is referred to as a “righteous and holy man” (Mk 6:20).  Jesus refers to a “righteous man” in Matthew 10:41. Therefore, men can be called “holy” in Scripture, and by extension, since “father” as an address for priests is perfectly biblical as well, the two could be put together for “holy father.”

– Dave Armstrong, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths

While we should pray for them and pray for their priesthood, Catholic priests aren’t perfect.  This shouldn’t come as a shock or be a source of scandal.  Yet these men, by virtue of the sacraments they administer, perfect in each of us, and in themselves, the holiness we are each called to by our baptism, and as members of the Body of Christ.  Through the special authority granted to them by Christ himself when he established the Priesthood (to be covered in another blog post), Catholic priests administer the sacraments and, thereby, strengthen the Christian faithful for the journey.

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Catholic priests hold position within the Church – a special place of ordination – just as St. Paul and his fellow “spiritual fathers” did in the early first century.  Just as the bishops and presbyters did in the early days of the Church, our priests today minister to the Church throughout the world through their preaching and offering the sacraments.

In the Catholic Church, therefore, and for my fellow Catholics:   Every priest requires our respect – every priest, in spite of his weaknesses or sins … When a man fails in priesthood, we should pray for him, confront him privately with our concerns, confront him with other witnesses; and, if all other attempts fail, we should take our case to the bishop, all the while honoring the man, his priesthood, and his fatherhood.  This is what children do for their fathers (see Gen 9:22-27) – see Hahn pp. 147-8.

… Paul was a father not because he was married and reared a family; he did not.  He was a father because he was a priest: “a minister … in the priestly service of the gospel” (Rom 15:16).

St. Augustine looked the same way upon the episcopal office he had inherited from the apostles:  “The apostles were sent as fathers; to replace those apostles, sons were born to you who were constituted bishops … The Church calls them fathers, she who gave birth to them, who placed them in the sees of their fathers … Such is the Catholic Church.  She has given birth to sons who, through all the earth, continue the work of her first Fathers.”

That is the true biblical teaching.  Our priests are so much more than managers or functionaries.  They are fathers.  The sacramental priesthood is not so much a ceremonial function as it is a family relation … [A priest’s] fatherhood is not merely metaphorical.  True fatherhood involves the communication of life.  As a natural father, I have communicated biological human life – but, in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, a priest communicates divine life and the divine humanity of Jesus Christ.

– Dr. Scott Hahn, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and their Biblical Roots

In future posts we will explore the heroes of the Priesthood and the many contributions these men have made throughout history in the sciences, art, literature and theology, to name a few.  For other references please visit Word on Fire (www.wordonfire.org) and search Heroic Priesthood.

The priest and the dying soldier, 1962

The priest and the dying soldier, 1962.

Navy chaplain Luis Padilla gives last rites to a soldier wounded by sniper fire during a revolt in Venezuela (1962). Braving the streets amid sniper fire, to offer last rites to the dying, the priest encountered a wounded soldier, who pulled himself up by clinging to the priest’s cassock, as bullets chewed up the concrete around them. The photo was taken on June 4, 1962 by Hector Rondon Lovera, photographer of Caracas, for the Venezuelan newspaper “La Republican”. It won the World Press Photo of the Year and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The original title of work is “Aid from The Padre”. (Source: rarehistoricalphotos.com)

May the Catholic Church continue to raise holy men to the Priesthood to minister to God’s people throughout the world.

Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.

Holy Family pray for us … Amen.

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Eucharist: Food for the Soul

There are many reasons to be a Catholic.  I’m certain there are just as many reasons people choose not to be Catholic.  Yet, for me, the most important reason for one to choose Catholicism is the Eucharist.

Today, in the Catholic liturgical celebration we call the Mass, the third reading was from John’s Gospel.  For the past few Sundays, in fact, as happens every three years, we’ve heard specifically from John’s sixth chapter. It is here that we encounter John’s Eucharistic Discourse (aka The Bread of Life Discourse). John’s telling of Jesus as the Bread of Life is a different depiction than in the Lord’s Supper accounts found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, and Paul’s letters.  For comparison I encourage you to read all of John’s sixth chapter and some of the other readings shared below.  You can easily read John 6 all the way through in one sitting.

Similarly, earlier this year the Church celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). As Catholics we were reminded then, as we are today on this Sunday, of the transformative sacramental power of the most holy Eucharist, which Saint Pope John Paul II called, “the Source and Summit of the Christian Faith.”

To my Catholic friends: I encourage you to standfast in your faith wherever you are in your spiritual journey, and I challenge you this year to go deeper in your understanding of the Eucharist, which is the “Mystery of Faith” and God’s greatest gift to humanity.

For my Catholic and non-Catholic friends I submit to you this:  To know Who is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist is to know God’s gift to you, and to each one of us, as we call to mind the familiar liturgical refrain, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are we who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

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Blessed are we indeed, for the Eucharist (from the Greek meaning “thanksgiving”) is not mere symbol; rather, it is food for the soul. And the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church spoken about in the Christian proclamation of faith – the Nicene Creed – has proclaimed and defended this truth for over 2,000 years.

Thanks be to God!

Such a mystery of faith cannot be explained by sight, of course. Yet we are strengthened by Christ’s exhortation to Saint Thomas (and to all of us), “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29). And, so, with confidence of over two millennia of Apostolic Tradition guided by the Holy Spirit let us approach the altar, that we may taste and see what goodness the Lord has prepared for us (Ps 34:9); that we may confidently exclaim with Saint Thomas, “My Lord and My God!” (Jn 20:28).

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Let our hearts, therefore, be open to such a reality! As the late Cardinal Francis George fondly encouraged, “If our hearts are open, the Lord can change and transform us so that one day we may speak with love about the One who is love.”

This Sunday at Mass, as during every Mass that’s offered for us every hour of every day, and in every nation around the globe, let us nourish our soul with the Bread come down from Heaven, and remain in Him who was sent for our salvation (Jn 6:47-51, 57).  And with an open heart, fed and nourished by this most holy Bread of the Angels, we can be changed and transformed, so that one day we may also live the words of Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Holy Communion Saint Maximillian Kolbe

So, truly, there are many reasons to be Catholic.  I’ve even challenged my four young children to, one day soon, be able to articulate why they are Catholic.

As for me, when asked, “Why are you Catholic?”  The answer is simple, really:  I’m Catholic because I will never turn my back on Jesus in the Eucharist.

While many murmured, as is done still today, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  Let us, rather, accept with faith and dutifully follow Saint Peter’s wise counsel, when responding to Jesus, he answered, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:60-69).

Be not afraid!  And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.  Amen.
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For further reading about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, see:
Jn 6:35-71
Jn 1:29
Mt 26:26-28
Mk 14:22-24
Lk 22:19-20
1 Cor 10:16
1 Cor 11:23-30
1 Cor 5:7
1 Cor 2:14-3:4 – explains what “the flesh” means in *Jn 6:63
Ex 12:8, 46
Ps 14:4
Is 9:18-20; 49:26
Mic 3:3
2 Sm 23:15-17
Rv 17:6, 16