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Today is the feast of the great martyr bishop who was also a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

Here is the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on him, which includes, of course, information on the sources for his life. 

Here’s a translation of the “Acts of Polycarp” – the account of his martyrdom sent from the Church in Smyrna.

He is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  

"amy welborn""st. Polycarp"

……..

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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It wouldn’t take too much to read these letters today: You can find them in your very own Bible, of course, but also just pop over here to read them online. 

B16 on the the two here, giving a good introduction:

Timothy is a Greek name which means “one who honours God”. Whereas Luke mentions him six times in the Acts, Paul in his Letters refers to him at least 17 times (and his name occurs once in the Letter to the Hebrews).

One may deduce from this that Paul held him in high esteem, even if Luke did not consider it worth telling us all about him.

Indeed, the Apostle entrusted Timothy with important missions and saw him almost as an alter ego, as is evident from his great praise of him in his Letter to the Philippians. “I have no one like him (isópsychon) who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare” (2: 20).

Timothy was born at Lystra (about 200 kilometres northwest of Tarsus) of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (cf. Acts 16: 1).

The fact that his mother had contracted a mixed-marriage and did not have her son circumcised suggests that Timothy grew up in a family that was not strictly observant, although it was said that he was acquainted with the Scriptures from childhood (cf. II Tm 3: 15). The name of his mother, Eunice, has been handed down to us, as well as that of his grandmother, Lois (cf. II Tm 1: 5).

When Paul was passing through Lystra at the beginning of his second missionary journey, he chose Timothy to be his companion because “he was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16: 2), but he had him circumcised “because of the Jews that were in those places” (Acts 16: 3).

Together with Paul and Silas, Timothy crossed Asia Minor as far as Troy, from where he entered Macedonia. We are informed further that at Philippi, where Paul and Silas were falsely accused of disturbing public order and thrown into prison for having exposed the exploitation of a young girl who was a soothsayer by several st-paul-and-st-timothyunscrupulous individuals (cf. Acts 16: 16-40), Timothy was spared.

When Paul was then obliged to proceed to Athens, Timothy joined him in that city and from it was sent out to the young Church of Thessalonica to obtain news about her and to strengthen her in the faith (cf. I Thes 3: 1-2). He then met up with the Apostle in Corinth, bringing him good news about the Thessalonians and working with him to evangelize that city (cf. II Cor 1: 19).

According to the later Storia Ecclesiastica by Eusebius, Timothy was the first Bishop of Ephesus (cf. 3, 4). Some of his relics, brought from Constantinople, were found in Italy in 1239 in the Cathedral of Termoli in the Molise….

….Then, as regards the figure of Titus, whose name is of Latin origin, we know that he was Greek by birth, that is, a pagan (cf. Gal 2: 3). Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem for the so-called Apostolic Council, where the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles that freed them from the constraints of Mosaic Law was solemnly accepted.

In the Letter addressed to Titus, the Apostle praised him and described him as his “true child in a common faith” (Ti 1: 4). After Timothy’s departure from Corinth, Paul sent Titus there with the task of bringing that unmanageable community to obedience….

…To conclude, if we consider together the two figures of Timothy and Titus, we are aware of certain very significant facts. The most important one is that in carrying out his missions, Paul availed himself of collaborators. He certainly remains the Apostle par excellence, founder and pastor of many Churches.

Yet it clearly appears that he did not do everything on his own but relied on trustworthy people who shared in his endeavours and responsibilities.

Another observation concerns the willingness of these collaborators. The sources concerning Timothy and Titus highlight their readiness to take on various offices that also often consisted in representing Paul in circumstances far from easy. In a word, they teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also entails a service to the Church herself.

He spoke again about them in another GA, this time focused on Paul’s pastoral letters, during the Year of Paul, in early 2009:

Another component typical of these Letters is their reflection on the ministerial structure of the Church. They are the first to present the triple subdivision into Bishops, priests and deacons (cf. 1 Tm 3: 1-13; 4: 13; 2 Tm 1: 6; Ti 1: 5-9). We can observe in the Pastoral Letters the merging of two different ministerial structures, and thus the constitution of the definitive form of the ministry in the Church. In Paul’s Letters from the middle period of his life, he speaks of “bishops” (Phil 1: 1), and of “deacons”: this is the typical structure of the Church formed during the time of the Gentile world.

However, as the figure of the Apostle himself remains dominant, the other ministries only slowly develop. If, as we have said, in the Churches formed in the ancient world we have Bishops and deacons, and not priests, in the Churches formed in the Judeo-Christian world, priests are the dominant structure. At the end of the Pastoral Letters, the two structures unite: now “the bishop” appears (cf. 1 Tm 3: 2; Ti 1: 7), used always in the singular with the definite article “the bishop”. And beside “the bishop” we find priests and deacons. The figure of the Apostle is still prominent, but the three Letters, as I have said, are no longer addressed to communities but rather to individuals, to Timothy and Titus, who on the one hand appear as Bishops, and on the other begin to take the place of the Apostle.

This is the first indication of the reality that later would be known as “apostolic succession”. Paul says to Timothy in the most solemn tones: “Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophesy, the presbyters laid their hands on you (1 Tm 4: 14). We can say that in these words the sacramental character of the ministry is first made apparent. And so we have the essential Catholic structure: Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and proclamation, form a whole, but to this structure a doctrinal structure, so to speak must be added the personal structure, the successors of the Apostles as witnesses to the apostolic proclamation.

Lastly, it is important to note that in these Letters, the Church sees herself in very human terms, analogous to the home and the family. Particularly in 1 Tm 3: 2-7 we read highly detailed instructions concerning the Bishop, like these: he must be “irreprehensible, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control and respectful in every way, for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s Church?…. Moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders”. A special note should be made here of the importance of an aptitude for teaching (cf. also 1 Tm 5: 17), which is echoed in other passages (cf. 1 Tm 6: 2c; 2 Tm 3: 10; Ti 2: 1), and also of a special personal characteristic, that of “paternity”. In fact the Bishop is considered the father of the Christian community (cf. also 1 Tm 3: 15). For that matter, the idea of the Church as “the Household of God” is rooted in the Old Testament (cf. Nm 12: 7) and is repeated in Heb 3: 2, 6, while elsewhere we read that all Christians are no longer strangers or guests, but fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God (cf. Eph 2: 19).

Let us ask the Lord and St Paul that we too, as Christians, may be ever more characterized, in relation to the society in which we live, as members of the “family of God”. And we pray that the Pastors of the Church may increasingly acquire paternal sentiments tender and at the same time strong in the formation of the House of God, of the community, and of the Church.

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Insights from past homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2006:

What happens in Baptism? What do we hope for from Baptism? You have given a response on the threshold of this Chapel:  We hope for eternal life for our children. This is the purpose of Baptism. But how can it be obtained? How can Baptism offer eternal life? What is eternal life?

In simpler words, we might say:  we hope for a good life, the true life, for these children of ours; and also for happiness in a future that is still unknown. We are unable to guarantee this gift for the entire span of the unknown future, so we turn to the Lord to obtain this gift from him.

We can give two replies to the question, “How will this happen?”. This is the first one: through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.

This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God’s love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing:  God’s family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life.

2007

A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God’s action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.

We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.

2008

Yet it does not seem out of place if we immediately juxtapose the experience of life with the opposite experience, that is, the reality of death. Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted. In Baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator for ever, for the whole of eternity. Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which Sacred Scripture describes as “second death”. Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed for ever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us. This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God’s hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made. We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.

2009

Dear friends, I am truly glad that this year too, on this Feast day, I have been granted the opportunity to baptize these children. God’s “favour” rests on them today. Ever since the Only-Begotten Son of the Father had himself baptized, the heavens are truly open and continue to open, and we may entrust every new life that begins into the hands of the One who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This effectively includes Baptism: we restore to God what came from him. The child is not the property of the parents but is entrusted to their responsibility by the Creator, freely and in a way that is ever new, in order that they may help him or her to be a free child of God.

2010

At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the Cross. The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.

2011

Dear parents, the Baptism, that you are asking for your children today, inserts them into this exchange of reciprocal love that is in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; through this act that I am about to carry out, God’s love is poured out upon them, showering them with his gifts. Your children, cleansed by the water, are inserted into the very life of Jesus who died on the Cross to free us from sin and in rising, conquered death

2012

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

2013

It is not easy to express what one believes in openly and without compromises. This is especially true in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that all too often considers those who live by faith in Jesus as out of fashion and out of time.

On the crest of this mentality, Christians too can risk seeing the relationship with Jesus as restrictive, something that humiliates one’s fulfilment; “God is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself” (The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth)

But this is not how it is! This vision shows that it has not understood the relationship with God at all, for as we gradually proceed on our journey of faith, we realize that Jesus exercises on us the liberating action of God’s love which brings us out of our selfishness, our withdrawal into ourselves, to lead us to a full life in communion with God and open to others.

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"amy welborn"

A piece I wrote for the National Review years ago on these feasts that fall after Christmas, including St. Stephen.

We might forget, we might wrap up Christmas in good cheer, but Christian tradition doesn’t. It’s striking that the next day–the very next day–after Christmas, the Church remembers not glad tidings, angels, and shepherd boys, but a bloody death by stoning. St. Stephen it is, the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen is followed by St. John on December 27th, who may not have met a violent death, but who, the tradition tells us, died in a prison of sorts, in exile for his faith, far away from the “civilized” powers that had sent him there. December 28th brings us back to babies, but with no relief–it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the children Herod ordered slaughtered, according to Matthew’s gospel, in his rabid fear of the rival king.

The message is clear and hard: Following this baby, as he reaches to us from the resin manger, looking out at us with the soft-eyed cattle and docile sheep, comes at a price.

 

From past Angelus addresses by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2005:

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ’s Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: “Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven” (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and further: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Acts 7: 59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the Martyr St Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.
It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod’s persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

2006

It is not by chance that Christmas iconography sometimes depicts the Divine Newborn carefully lain in a little sarcophagus in order to indicate that the Redeemer is born to die, is born to give his life in ransom for all.

St Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of Christ with his martyrdom. He died, like the divine Master, pardoning and praying for his killers (cf. Acts 7: 60).

amy-welborn5

Carlo Crivelli, 1476

In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. They were a countless body that the liturgy calls “the white-robed army of martyrs”,martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not rouse fear and sadness, but spiritual enthusiasm that gave rise to ever new Christians.

For believers the day of death, and even more the day of martyrdom, is not the end of all; rather, it is the “transit” towards immortal life. It is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. The link that exists then between the “dies natalis” of Christ and the dies natalis of St Stephen is understood.

2008

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Stephen we see materializing the first fruits of salvation that the Nativity of Christ brought to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of falsehood. Let us praise God, for this victory still enables many Christians today to respond to evil not with evil but with the power of truth and love.

2009

Stephen is also the Church’s first deacon. In becoming a servant of the poor for love of Christ, he gradually enters into full harmony with him and follows Christ to the point of making the supreme gift of himself. The witness borne by Stephen, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our contemporaries, who are often distracted and uncertain, in whom they should place their trust in order to give meaning to their lives. The martyr, in fact, is one who dies knowing with certainty that he is loved by God, who puts nothing before love of Christ, knowing that he has chosen the better part. The martyr is configured fully to the death of Christ, aware of being a fertile seed of life and of opening up paths of peace and hope in the world. Today, in presenting the Deacon St Stephen to us as our model the Church likewise points out to us that welcoming and loving the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to witness credibly to human beings to the Kingdom of God that comes.

2011

"amy welborn"

This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven… and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

2012

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelization. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

The newness of the proclamation lies in the depth of the believer’s immersion in the mystery of Christ and in assimilation of his word and of his presence in the Eucharist so that he himself, the living Jesus, may speak and act in his messengers. Essentially, evangelizers can bring Christ to others effectively when they themselves live in Christ, when the newness of the Gospel is reflected in their own life.

And then, two more, from other occasions.  The first from the General Audience of 1/10/2007, in which Benedict discusses Stephen as a part of the series he did on great figures in Christianity (collected in several books):

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church’s life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, becomes “the seed of Christians”, the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed…” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

And then from 2012, as he was discussing prayer in the General Audiences, and in particular the relationship between Scripture and prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.

A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely.

"amy welborn"

 

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Today is his feast! Begin, as we like to do, with the grounded and pastoral catechesis of #B16:

In these past months we have meditated on the figures of the individual Apostles and on the first witnesses of the Christian faith who are mentioned in the New Testament writings.

Let us now devote our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generations in the Church subsequent to the Apostles. And thus, we can see where the Church’s journey begins in history.

St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles”, “had been conversant with them”, and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Later testimonies which date back to between the fourth and sixth centuries attribute to Clement the title of martyr.

The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only one that is certainly his is the Letter to the Corinthians. Eusebius of Caesarea, the great “archivist” of Christian beginnings, presents it in these terms: “There is extant an Epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter Church. We know that this Epistle also has been publicly used in a great many Churches both in former times and in our own” (Hist. Eccl. 3, 16).

An almost canonical character was attributed to this Letter. At the beginning of this text – written in Greek – Clement expressed his regret that “the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves” (1, 1) had prevented him from intervening sooner. These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.

Clement’s intervention – we are still in the first century – was prompted by the serious problems besetting the Church in Corinth: the elders of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young contestants. The sorrowful event was recalled once again by St Irenaeus who wrote: “In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful Letter to the Corinthians exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles” (Adv. Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Thus, we could say that this Letter was a first exercise of the Roman primacy after St Peter’s death. Clement’s Letter touches on topics that were dear to St Paul, who had written two important Letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, perennially current, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.

NOW….back in 2012, nearing the end of our epic fall in Europe, we were in Rome on 11/23, and purely by chance ,the wonderful Basilica of S. Clemente was on our agenda that day. We wandered over there, toured the Basilica (a second time for us, but the boys were little the first time and of course didn’t remember it), and then, in the neighborhood…encountered a festival. A festival for S. Clemente of course!

You can’t take photos inside the Basilica, so this was a close as I got.

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The feast, complete with procession, was so great, I took some lousy videos.


Loved it. Messy, imperfect, enthusiastic, rooted in history, public, welcoming all. Catholic.

Finish up with more from B16:

The action of God who comes to meet us in the liturgy precedes our decisions and our ideas. The Church is above all a gift of God and not something we ourselves created; consequently, this sacramental structure does not only guarantee the common order but also this precedence of God’s gift which we all need.

Finally, the “great prayer” confers a cosmic breath to the previous reasoning. Clement praises and thanks God for his marvellous providence of love that created the world and continues to save and sanctify it.

The prayer for rulers and governors acquires special importance. Subsequent to the New Testament texts, it is the oldest prayer extant for political institutions. Thus, in the period following their persecution, Christians, well aware that the persecutions would continue, never ceased to pray for the very authorities who had unjustly condemned them.

The reason is primarily Christological: it is necessary to pray for one’s persecutors as Jesus did on the Cross.

But this prayer also contains a teaching that guides the attitude of Christians towards politics and the State down the centuries. In praying for the Authorities, Clement recognized the legitimacy of political institutions in the order established by God; at the same time, he expressed his concern that the Authorities would be docile to God, “devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by [God]” (61, 2).

Caesar is not everything. Another sovereignty emerges whose origins and essence are not of this world but of “the heavens above”: it is that of Truth, which also claims a right to be heard by the State.

Thus, Clement’s Letter addresses numerous themes of perennial timeliness. It is all the more meaningful since it represents, from the first century, the concern of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the other Churches.

In this same Spirit, let us make our own the invocations of the “great prayer” in which the Bishop of Rome makes himself the voice of the entire world: “Yes, O Lord, make your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by your mighty hand… through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation, for evermore” (60-61).

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Selections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Angelus address, 2006

He is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed: they come knocking at the doors of the heart and the mind and where they can enter they bring peace and joy. This is how God reigns; this is his project of salvation, a “mystery” in the biblical sense of the word: a plan that is gradually revealed in history.

2008:

Today’s Gospel insists precisely on the universal kingship of Christ the Judge, with the stupendous parable of the Last Judgment, which St Matthew placed immediately before the Passion narrative (25: 31-46). The images are simple, the language is popular, but the message is extremely important: it is the truth about our ultimate destiny and about the criterion by which we will be evaluated. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25: 35) and so forth. Who does not know this passage? It is part of our civilization. It has marked the history of the peoples of Christian culture: the hierarchy of values, the institutions, the multiple charitable and social organizations. In fact, the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but it brings to fulfilment all the good that, thank God, exists in man and in history. If we put love for our neighbour into practice in accordance with the Gospel message, we make room for God’s dominion and his Kingdom is actualized among us. If, instead, each one thinks only of his or her own interests, the world can only go to ruin.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of honours and appearances but, as St Paul writes, it is “righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14: 17). The Lord has our good at heart, that is, that every person should have life, and that especially the “least” of his children may have access to the banquet he has prepared for all. Thus he has no use for the forms of hypocrisy of those who say: “Lord, Lord” and then neglect his commandments (cf. Mt 7: 21). In his eternal Kingdom, God welcomes those who strive day after day to put his Word into practice. For this reason the Virgin Mary, the humblest of all creatures, is the greatest in his eyes and sits as Queen at the right of Christ the King. Let us once again entrust ourselves to her heavenly intercession with filial trust, to be able to carry out our Christian mission in the world.

2009:

But in what does this “power” of Jesus Christ the King consist? It is not the power of the kings or the great people of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart, bring peace amid the harshest conflict and kindle hope in the thickest darkness.

2010

Dear Friends, we can also contemplate in Christian art the way of love that the Lord reveals to us and invites us to take. In fact, in the past “in the arrangement of Christian sacred buildings… it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king — the symbol of hope — at the east end; while the west wall normally portrayed the Last Judgement as a symbol of our responsibility for our lives” (Encyclical Spe Salvi, n. 41): hope in the infinite love of God and commitment to ordering our life in accordance with the love of God.

2007 homily:

We find ourselves again before the Cross, the central event of the mystery of Christ. In the Pauline vision the Cross is placed within the entire economy of salvation, where Jesus’ royalty is displayed in all its cosmic fullness.

This text of the Apostle expresses a synthesis of truth and faith so powerful that we cannot fail to remain in deep admiration of it. The Church is the trustee of the mystery of Christ: She is so in all humility and without a shadow of pride or arrogance, because it concerns the maximum gift that she has received without any merit and that she is called to offer gratuitously to humanity of every age, as the horizon of meaning and salvation. It is not a philosophy, it is not a gnosis, even though it also comprises wisdom and knowledge. It is the mystery of Christ, it is Christ himself, the Logos incarnate, dead and risen, made King of the universe. How can one fail to feel a rush of enthusiasm full of gratitude for having been permitted to contemplate the splendour of this revelation? How can one not feel at the same time the joy and the responsibility to serve this King, to witness his Lordship with one’s life and word?

2010

Participation in the lordship of Christ is only brought about in practice in the sharing of his self-abasement, with the Cross. My ministry too, dear Brothers, and consequently also yours, consists wholly of faith. Jesus can build his Church on us as long as that true, Paschal faith is found in us, that faith which does not seek to make Jesus come down from the Cross but entrusts itself to him on the Cross. In this regard the true place of the Vicar of Christ is the Cross, it lies in persisting in the obedience of the Cross.

This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end.

And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the ear of wheat which dies to bear fruit.

2011, in Benin

The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!

Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life. However, as Saint Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and he brings us with him in his resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

2012:

In the second reading, the author of the Book of Revelation states that we too share in Christ’s kingship. In the acclamation addressed “to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”, he declares that Christ “has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). Here too it is clear that we are speaking of a kingdom based on a relationship with God, with truth, and not a political kingdom. By his sacrifice, Jesus has opened for us the path to a profound relationship with God: in him we have become true adopted children and thus sharers in his kingship over the world. To be disciples of Jesus, then, means not letting ourselves be allured by the worldly logic of power, but bringing into the world the light of truth and God’s love. The author of the Book of Revelation broadens his gaze to include Jesus’ second coming to judge mankind and to establish forever his divine kingdom, and he reminds us that conversion, as a response to God’s grace, is the condition for the establishment of this kingdom (cf. 1:7). It is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives. We invoke the kingdom daily in the prayer of the “Our Father” with the words “Thy kingdom come”; in effect we say to Jesus: Lord, make us yours, live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love

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The taxi had dropped us a couple of blocks away from the Campo dei Miracoli.  He had brought us from the airport through the streets of Pisa, across the Arno river, then on more narrow roads until it made no sense to go any further. He had talked non-stop since picking us up, offering suggestions on how to spend our time and telling me, in answer to my query on his excellent English, that twenty years ago he had thought he would leave Italy for the United States, but, his voice trailed off to say, it hadn’t worked out. It was too bad, he said, for over there, you get paid more money and things cost less. Here we get paid less, and it costs so much more to live.

It was not hard to find the Field of Miracles after that, for all we had to do was follow the crowd, and once we arrived, that is what hit us. That: so many…people. And two other things: it’s going to rain and we don’t have an umbrella and it really does lean.

And it does. The Leaning Tower of Pisa really does lean, and it is much more dramatic in person than in photographs, since the straight right angles of the rest of the world are so much more present in contrast.

Even in the rain, even before the height of tourist season, so many people. Look at all of them.  Why are they here? To see an iconic image – and it is fun to be there with everyone else, most of us experiencing it for the first and probably only time in your life – that sense of community you experience in tourism. We are here, you are here, seeing this thing, and together we will remember it too and you – speaking English, Italian, German, French, Japanese, Madarin, Hindi..you’ll be a part of the remembering. I won’t just remember a white tower of marble. I’ll remember drizzle and security guards and the child scampering ahead of me and the older couple puffing behind me as we trudge up, leaning.

So yes, there we were. As we finished with the tower and moved to the church and then the baptistery, I was struck by what these crowds were about on this spot. They were walking around and in, studying, photographing and contemplating just those things: a church. A baptistery. And a tower with bells that for centuries had called not tourists, but worshippers and seekers, not just to see and gawk, but to be. To be with.

I thought of the other sights we had seen over the past three weeks – this was our last night in Italy.  All of the crowds we had joined, all the tickets we had purchased and photographs we had taken? Most of them had been of places where people had been baptized, where they had come to seek what is real, to connect with it, to have hope. All of these places had been heavy with images, and not just any images, and really the same images from place to place: Jesus hanging on a cross. Disciples following, listening. Saints gazing out, looking up, reaching. All of these had been places where even now, people touched by the hands of others who had been, back in the mists of history, touched by the apostles in the stained glass windows still talked about that Jesus. Even now, in most of those places, seekers still came to meet that Jesus hanging on a cross, to find life in his life, offered to them to eat and drink.

People don’t come to church anymore.

But they do, don’t they?

I travel a lot, and everywhere I travel, I end up in churches, for there are churches everywhere. The United States is not as heavy with historical and artistically-significant churches as Europe is, of course, but still, in every major city, you’ll find a downtown Catholic church or two of historical import.

And most of the time, you will find scores of people streaming in and out of that church during the day, perhaps even hundreds.

People don’t come to church anymore.

A few weeks ago, we were in New Orleans, and the scene I witnessed there is similar to what I’ve witnessed in other American Catholic Churches of this type.

It’s St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, as iconic as they come. We popped in mid-day on a Saturday, and of course we were not alone. Dozens were in and out during the short time we were in there. A small group was being led on a tour by a Cathedral docent. It was a busy place.

People don’t come to church anymore.

What struck me, as it does in most similar situations, was the absence of printed materials that would help people understand the building. (Not to speak of actual human beings there to welcome and answer questions) There was a trifold pamphlet available for a dollar that had the most basic information about the building, but no detailed guides to the interior, to explanations of symbolism or structures.

It’s astonishing to me.

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

I think every church should have the materials I’m about to suggest – every one – but particularly churches that experience a lot of tourism. There’s no excuse not to have these. None. Not if you are serious about evangelization, that is. Not if you really and actually believe the stuff.

  1. A detailed guide of the historic and artistic aspects of the building.
  2. A guide identifying the important aspects of the structure and interior and explaining their meaning. As in: statues, crucifix, tabernacle, altar, confessionals, baptismal and holy water fonts, candles, altar rail, episcopal chair, choir stalls…whatever you’ve got. Explain it.
  3. A basket of rosaries. Holy cards, at the very least, and possibly medals related to the church’s patron saint.
  4. Copies of the New Testament, or at least the Gospels.
  5. Lots of bulletins or other parish information, presented with a welcoming “y’all come back!” and “let us know if you need anything” sensibility.

And yes, all of this should be free.  And there should be  a person sitting at a table with a smile on his or her face, answering questions. All day.

Listen. When have a parish of a thousand families, are thrilled when thirty adults show up at your religious education program and totally ignore the hundreds that come through to visit your historical church on a daily basis…you’ve got some blinders on and you might want to think about removing them.

Of course, the first immediate object relates to cost. Catholics hate giving anything away. We even charge parents to teach their children about Jesus. Go figure. But, as a long-time observer of this Catholic scene, I can safely say…it can be done. This is how you do it:

You make it a priority, you tell everyone that this your priority, and you invite them to join in the mission.

You say, “We have this amazing evangelizing opportunity. We have thousands of people come through our church every year to tour it. We are going to make presenting them with the truth and beauty of faith in Christ a priority. We need ten thousand dollars a year for free materials. These are the materials. Who’s in?”

I’m certain that when people are presented with a very specific pledge on how their funds are going to be used, and it is a valuable step in evangelization like this, they will step up.

And sure, if you want to produce something glossier with photos, do – and charge for that. But materials that invite people into a deeper consideration of the meaning of the objects and structures around them, a deeper consideration that might lead them to salvation?

Yeah, those should be free.

My point: I’ve been in historic Catholic churches all over the United States and rarely, if ever, seen materials like this available for tourists. And I’ve looked. Believe me, I’ve looked.

(Here’s last year’s rant on a similar score, inspired by a visit to Savannah, where hundreds come daily to the Cathedral during the Christmas season to see the Nativity scene.)

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No one comes to church anymore.

Of  course, I think these kinds of materials should be in the vestibule of every Catholic church, even if it was built in 1973 and looks like the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. You still get seekers, every Sunday, and maybe even every day.  There are many ways to meet those people and begin to draw them to Christ. Personal encounters are important. But so is the simple act of just having information freely available and invitingly presented.

In fact, I believe I have written before about a related idea: someone (publishing company, diocese, what have you) coming up with a basic template for, say, “A guide to our church” – that would have the theological and spiritual meanings already written up, perhaps with basic schematic sketches of say, a statue or altar or tabernacle – that would be customizable by an individual church.

Or, you know, you could just make one.

What is a “welcoming church?” Is it one in which elderly ushers accost latecomers and force them into the pew of their own choosing? Is it one in which we are ordered to awkwardly greet our neighbors or raise our hands and share where we’re from?

Or is a “welcoming church” one which:

  1. Has open doors as much as is practically possible.
  2. Has a congregation formed in the ways of simple Christian hospitality: don’t glare at children. Scoot your tail over and make room for other people in the pew. When Mass is over, make eye contact with strangers, smile, and say, “Good morning.” If you note possible confusion or hesitation, offer help in a friendly way. Don’t glare at children.
  3. Has free materials available: What to do at Mass. This is what the Stuff in Our Church Means. Here’s who Jesus is. Here are some good prayers.
  4. Has bulletins/cards/flyers and people sending the message: Here’s who we are. Come and talk. Let us know if we can help you. Here’s how you can join us in helping others. Maybe even a newcomer’s/seeker’s coffee once a month.

In essence:

Once a week, someone different on staff or in the volunteer corps should walk into your church with the eyes of a seeking, curious, nervous stranger.  What questions would that person have? Is there any attempt to answer those questions? What vibe would they be picking up? Would they have easy, non-threatening, non-awkward access to information that will make it easy for them to return and dig deeper?

In my limited experience, European churches can sometimes be a bit – just a bit  – better about providing informative materials, and of course many have porters who function more as guards and may not be the friendliest human beings on the planet, but at least they are there to answer questions.

So, for example, this, the first couple of pages from the free guide from Florence, which at least sets the tone. You can click on the images to get a clearer, readable, view.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

"amy welborn"

EPSON MFP image

 

Do you have evidence that I’m wrong? I hope so! Share it! I would love to see what your church provides, especially if it’s a tourist destination.

This was one of my favorites – I found it lovely and charming. It was at a small church in northern Arizona. St. Christopher’s in Kanab – very welcoming, aware that it’s a tourist stop – not because of its history, but because it’s on the way to and from the Grand Canyon and other place:

So simple to do. But it communicates: We believe.  It’s important. And we want to share it with you.

People do come to church. They come out of curiosity. They come to seek. They come to experience beautiful music and art. They come to find Pokemon. They walk by on ghost tours. They come because they’re hungry and homeless. They come to find shelter from  the sun, the cold or the rain.

They’re about to come in great numbers because it’s Christmas. Are you ready? Are you excited that they’re coming? Are you thrilled to know that there are people who are going to meet Jesus in a deeper way because they come to Mass at Christmas at your parish? Or are you irritated, resentful, dismissive, and already ready for it to be over and things to get back to normal?

So yes, they come.

The question is…do we really even care? 

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