The Lord is the king of apostles; come, let us adore him.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: Red.
“I do so love St Peter,” says a friend of mine. “Whenever he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it”.
She is right, of course. Whatever else St Peter may be, he is not the model of a wise and noble hero. He walks on the water – but then panics and starts to sink. He makes the first profession of faith – and moments later blunders into error and is called Satan by the Lord. He refuses to be washed, and then, when the purpose is explained to him, demands to be washed all over. And, of course, he betrays his master soon after having been warned that he will and having sworn not to. If Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, what a fissured and friable rock it is! How much better, we think, to have chosen the Sons of Thunder, for their energy; or Judas Iscariot, for his financial acumen; or John, because he was loved the best.
The choosing of Peter teaches us a lesson. The Church’s foundation-stone and its first leader is not all-wise, all-knowing, good, heroic, and beautiful. He is a very ordinary man who makes about as many mistakes as we would in his place, and kicks himself for them just as thoroughly afterwards. If St Peter had been a hero, we could easily have despaired of ever becoming like him. If St Peter had been great, and noble, and good, we could have told ourselves that the Church is for the saints, despaired, sat down, and not bothered. But the Church is not just for saints: it is for confused, impetuous, cowardly people like us – or St Peter. The rock crumbles, the ropes are frayed, the wood is rotten – but, although that improbable building, the Church, is made of such inferior materials, it grows (on the whole) faster than it collapses, and it is grace that holds it together.
In the end, it was grace that gave the coward the courage to bear witness when it counted, grace that gave the fool the wisdom he needed to set the infant Church on her way, grace that taught the impetuous man patience and forbearance.
We none of us admire ourselves, however much we would like to; let us not try to admire St Peter either, but admire instead the grace he was given, and pray that, weak as we are, we may be given it too, and may use it.
St Paul is not an attractive figure today. We are still knee deep in the overripe fruit of late romanticism: we admire men who feel, not think; who enchant people into following them, not argue them into submission.
There is even, nowadays, a fashion for saying that Paul invented Christianity as we know it, that he set out with the cynical aim of fashioning an enduring institution; and that the real Christianity, the Christianity of Christ, is something quite different from and far nicer than the Christianity we know.
Yes, Paul’s mind did shape the early Church. Yes, without him things would have been different. And all the information that we have in the New Testament is entirely consistent with the whole thing being a Pauline conspiracy.
But so what? “Consistent with” is a treacherous phrase. The evidence of my eyes is entirely consistent with there being an invisible lion in my fireplace, because you can’t see invisible lions; but I still don’t believe there is one. I trust the world, I have faith in it, and invisible lions are not part of that faith. I trust God, I have faith in the Holy Spirit – I say so out loud on Sundays – and I believe that God called Saul because he needed him, and that the renamed Saul did and said what needed to be said and done.
Paul is not some cold and remote intellectual – just read the Epistles, and see if that stands up. Paul is always reminding people of his weakness – look, I know what I ought to do, and I keep on doing the opposite – look, I have this thorn in my flesh and God absolutely refuses to take it away. Paul is not all mind – he does have his troubles too.
But yes, Paul does have a mind, and that raises problems in an age that doesn’t, that uses “clever” as a term of abuse. Remember, though, that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Perhaps we cannot love St Paul very much nowadays; but let us at least pray for the grace to love God with our minds, as he did.
In other years: St Cyril of Alexandria (370 - 444)
Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.
In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.
The resulting battle was as unedifying as most of the early fights that defined the shape of Christianity, because both sides were concerned to defend something that they saw as being of infinite and eternal importance. If it had been a question of power politics, of who got what post and what revenues, the matter could have been settled quietly – but this was not about power, it was important, and the victory was more important than the methods. Seen from fifteen centuries later, the proceedings seem melodramatic and absurd: Cyril arriving at the Council of Ephesus accompanied by fifty bishops wielding baseball bats (or the fifth-century equivalent); the Emperor, burdened with a sister who supported Cyril and a wife who supported Nestorius; the ratification of the contradictory decrees of both the council that supported Cyril and the council that supported Nestorius; the imprisonment of both bishops; the bribery...
To revere Cyril of Alexandria is not to approve the methods he used: he fought according to the conventions of the time, and with its weapons. But he never sought to destroy Nestorius or any of his opponents, only to win the day for the truth of salvation: would that controversies today were fought with such pure motives.
After the fireworks of the Council, Cyril was moderate and conciliatory, and sought to reconcile to the Church any Nestorians who were willing to engage in dialogue. It is largely through his efforts that we can celebrate (even if we still fail to understand completely) the two natures of Christ, and that we can address Mary as “Mother of God”. It is as a theologian rather than as a politician that Cyril is honoured.
So let us give thanks that Cyril lived, and let us enjoy the fruits of his achievement; but although we ought all to share his pure zeal for the truth, let us not hurry to imitate his more vigorous methods!
Other saints: St John Southworth (1592? - 1654)
John Southworth is normally included with the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and only in the diocese of Westminster, where he died, is his feast kept separately, on the anniversary of his execution. But if he was worth canonizing, he is worth knowing; for saints are not canonized to make up an arbitrary quantity.
John Southworth was the only English martyr to suffer under a dictatorship. The English Civil War ended; the King was executed; the Elizabethan Prayer-Book outlawed; freedom of conscience proclaimed. But Catholics, who had been accused of plotting against the King, were still persecuted when there was no King; they had been fined for refusing to accept the Prayer-Book, and they were still persecuted when there was no Prayer-Book; all they asked was freedom of conscience for themselves and their countrymen, and freedom of conscience was given to everyone but them. Priests had to come and go, in secret, in fear of betrayal and death, as they had had to do for more than a generation.
John Southworth was ordained priest at the English College at Douai in 1618. After returning to England he was arrested in Lancashire in 1627 and condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment; in 1630 he was handed over, with several other priests, to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad. Whether he actually went or not seems uncertain, but he was certainly in England in 1637, when Westminster was devastated by the plague. He was seen visiting an infected house, and since there could be only one reason for anyone to visit the sick under such dangerous circumstances, he was arrested and charged with being a priest. On that occasion the authorities quietly set him free and he disappeared underground once more; but such clemency enraged the Puritans, and, seventeen years later, in 1654, when they were in power, they had their revenge.
At his trial, it was open to John Southworth to plead Not Guilty to the criminal and capital charge of being a priest – most of the missionaries did, to cause as much trouble as possible to the persecutors. But Southworth did not. If he had pleaded Not Guilty, the court might have acquitted him; as it was, the judge wept as he passed sentence. He would have saved his life, but he would have been denied the glory of solidarity with all the other English martyrs.
The body of John Southworth was bought from the executioner by the Spanish Ambassador, who returned it to Douai for burial. At the time of the French Revolution he was re-buried in an unmarked grave for protection. The grave was rediscovered in 1927 and the body returned to England – the only complete remains of any of the English martyrs. Upon Southworth’s beatification in 1929, his relics were enshrined in London’s Catholic cathedral in Westminster.
Although the penal laws remained in force, perhaps the sight of such an obviously innocent man being cruelly killed discouraged their application; for it was 24 years before the next priest was martyred. And no doubt his prayers have helped to win the temporary liberty of conscience that England now enjoys, imperfect and threatened though it is.
May the prayers of all martyrs, everywhere, win true liberty for us all.
Other saints: Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Maitland-Newcastle, Wilcannia-Forbes, Hallam, Leeds, Middlesbrough
One of the most popular representations of Our Lady is the picture of Our Mother (or Our Lady) of Perpetual Succour. The icon shows the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus; with a blue mantle representing her perpetual virginity; and with a cloaked veil representing her modesty. On the left side is the Archangel Michael; on the right side is the Archangel Gabriel. The star on Mary’s forehead signifies her title as Star of the Sea.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, this picture was brought from Crete to Rome; it was in the possession of a merchant from Crete, who appears to have stolen it; it is reputed to have hung in his home for some years. In 1499, during the pontificate of Alexander VI, it was placed in the church of San Matteo in the via Merulana, where it was venerated for some three hundred years. In the aftermath of the French revolution the church was destroyed and the whereabouts of the picture were unknown. It was providentially rediscovered in 1865. Pius IX restored it to public veneration in the church of St Alphonsus Liguori in Rome.
When the new diocese of Leeds was created in December 1878, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was declared principal patroness of the Diocese. In 2010 the title was changed to Our Lady of Unfailing Help.
The Diocese of Hallam was formed on 30 May 1980 by the division of the Dioceses of Leeds and Nottingham and consists of South Yorkshire, parts of the High Peak and the Chesterfield Districts of Derbyshire and the District of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is also patroness of other dioceses around the world.
Other saints: Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877 - 1949)
He was born in 1877 in the village of Dobromirka in the Austro-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia. He was ordained a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Lemberg (later Lwów and currently Lviv) in 1905. He was consecreated as the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for Canada in 1912.
He returned to Eastern Galicia in 1927 and became Vicar-General of the Metropolitan Curia in Lwów. After the Second World War Britain and America gave Eastern Galicia to the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities decided to put the Ukrainian Catholic Church under their own authority and separate it from Rome, and when he resisted, Budka was imprisoned, along with other bishops, on 11 April 1945 and was worked to death in a labour camp in Kazakhstan, where he died on 28 September 1949.
He was beatified as a martyr on 27 June 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Other saints: Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky (1903 - 1973)
He was born on 1 June 1903 in Stanislav in Eastern Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town was later Stanisławów in Poland, then Ivano-Frankovsk in the Ukrainian SSR, and is currently Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine). He entered the seminary in Lwów (currently Lviv) in 1920 and was ordained priest in 1925. He became abbot of the monastery at Ternopil. He was therefore arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1945 and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years’ hard labour.
He returned to Lviv in 1955 and was ordained bishop in 1963. He was arrested once more in 1969, imprisoned for three years and then exiled to Canada in 1972. He died in Winnipeg on 30 June 1973. He was beatified in 2001.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
Liturgical colour: red
Red is the colour of fire and of blood. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit (for instance, at Pentecost) and the blood of the martyrs.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Acts 15:7-9 ©|
God chose that the pagans should learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Galatians 1:15-16,17-18 ©|
God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Three years later I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas.
|Afternoon reading (None)||2 Corinthians 4:13-14 ©|
We have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us.