May 30, 2011
On Wednesday we celebrate one of the first saints to give his life for Christ. Justin is even often known as Justin Martyr because of his pre -eminence in that regard. He seems to have been born in Palestine, though he was not a Jew. He was murdered for his Christian faith around the year 165 AD. We know much about him from his writings which can still be read and still have much to teach us.
Justin was determined to bring others to know Christ. He himself had become a Christian when he was in his early thirties after a life devoted to studying the various philosophies and religions on offer. He used his knowledge and skill to convince his readers that Jesus was ‘The Way’.
His writings also tell us about the practices of the earliest Christians. When he describes the Sunday gathering we can instantly recognise the outline of the Mass we celebrate ourselves. He speaks of readings from the Scriptures, and the sharing of Bread and Wine, as a celebration of the life of the risen Christ present among his people. By giving his life Justin showed the power of Christ’s resurrection, by living ours we show our faith in that mystery. The eucharist stands at the apex of all we do. As Justin realised, ‘When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come in glory!’
May 23, 2011
During the Elizabethan persecution of the Church the life expectancy of new priests landing in our islands after ordination could be measured in months not years. The young men training abroad were well aware that death awaited them. And so too were the populations among whom they studied. It was the custom of the saint we celebrate next Thursday to kneel and ask for their blessing just before they started for England and Wales. St Philip Neri would greet them as ‘the flower of martyrdom’, and knew many of them well.
We are well aware of our martyrs we could do well to make St. Philip better known. Born in Florence in 1515, as a young man himself Philip began to work among the young people of Rome. He brought home more by example than by lecturing the importance of the Christian message. In 1551 he was ordained priest and gathered other similar minded clergy around him in what became the Congregation of the Oratory. His great Church, the ‘Chiesa Nuova’, is one of the most beautiful in Rome.
Philip was an attractive character and not conventional. He had a great sense of fun, and he was keen to bring down to earth – the true meaning of humility – those who were pompous or full of their own importance. He died as an old man in 1595.
All too often religion has been portrayed as a dull, serious affair. Go and read the life of St. Philip and find there many examples of Christian joy which completely contradicts that myth.
May 16, 2011
The choice of the twelve apostles was no arbitrary decision on the part of Jesus. He wanted to choose twelve men with whom he would share his ministry and preaching. We find lists of the twelve in the gospels, and they are shown as intimately associated with Him. When Judas betrayed Jesus that group was devastated. But it is interesting to note that one of the first actions of the early church after the resurrection was to make the group complete again. In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read about the process whereby that choice was made.
The man chosen was called Matthias. He was suitable because he fulfilled the criteria set by St Peter – he had accompanied Jesus from his baptism until the Ascension. And the task he was given is absolutely clear: he is to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
Down through the centuries that has remained the key task of all the followers of Jesus. Although the Apostles hold a unique place in the history of the Church their role is continued by the bishops. And although the Apostles saw the risen Lord themselves we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection too. The new life of Jesus should be visible in our lives. Let’s ask Matthias to pray that it will be.
May 8, 2011
So powerful has been Christians’ conviction that Jesus is truly risen from the dead that each and every century of the Church’s history is littered with martyrs who have died for Christ. From the earliest apostles to the saints of the twentieth and twenty first centuries we have examples of those who have shown their faith by laying down their lives.
These martyrs, witnessing to the power of the risen Lord, have by no means all been adults or older people. The saint we celebrate on Thursday, Pancras, seems to have been an adolescent of about 14. We are told that he refused to denounce Christ and suffered death in the last great persecution at the turn of the fourth century. And he is by no means alone. There are scores of other youngsters who have shown their faith in this way.
They, and all the other martyrs, were able to face death because they knew that Jesus is the Lord of life. He himself is ‘the resurrection and the life’. And as we are celebrating throughout Easter, he has destroyed death for ever.
We may not be called to be martyrs like Pancras, but we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection. May his prayers help us.