The Feast of Saint Mark

[Scripture Readings: I Peter 5: 5b-14; Mark 16: 15-20]

We really don’t know much about some of the significant “foundational” persons of the early church. We know a lot about the founders of our country: George Washington, James Madison, and perhaps a bit too much about Thomas Jefferson. But there are few details about the apostles and evangelists. There are some traditions, but most of the empty spaces are filled in by the imaginative speculations of 2nd Nocturn readings. The identities of these people seem to have been absorbed by their missions, their locations, their role in transmitting the Paschal experience of the early church. They seem to have disappeared in forms of unselfishness. Even Paul said that it finally didn’t matter if Christ were preached by others out of rivalry or jealousy, just that He be preached (Philippians 1).

But this attitude is in sharp contrast with what the Gospels tell us of the pre-Paschal experience of the disciples. Mark is the severest of all the evangelists in reporting their struggles and arguments for prestige, the highest position. They have not just “little faith” as in Matthew, but “no faith.” They constantly fail to understand. Mark doesn’t soften the evidence of their incomprehension. We are then presented with a radical transformation of the disciples in their post-Paschal experience. Their encounter with the Risen Lord converted them in the depths of their beings.

When we read the Gospels or celebrate them in the liturgy, do we hear them in a post-Paschal or a pre-Paschal context? Usually, we try to fit them to our experiences. We look to them for comfort, for instruction, for information. We enter into a Biblical culture, a privileged and enclosed world. We hope for insights and stimulation. But at a subtle and pre-conscious level, we stand as the arbiter, judge, and critic of the word. We try to fit the Gospels into our world. And what doesn’t fit, we let slip by. We approach them in a pre-Paschal context.

In his letter on Evangelization, Pope Paul VI said that real evangelization means an interior conversion and transformation. The power of the Gospel has to go to the very center and root of life. It is meant to impregnate culture and the whole way of life. It is not enough to encounter the Gospel only on the surface. It has the power to restructure and recreate our most basic assumptions about life. We may still be operating with an obscured sense of what the Kingdom is about; our view of life may be skewed. “Do you still not understand?”

Our readings underline the conflict with evil that follows upon obeying the Word. “Resist the devil, steadfast in faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brothers and sisters throughout the world” (I Peter). It is not too difficult to recognize evil in its overt forms: war, genocide, racism. But often it is more subtle. It is a seductive ordering power which can slowly lead to a degenerating, moribund state of satisfaction, of complacency, of erosion of hope and values. Dorothee Soelle refers to sin as the condition “when life freezes over.” Evil can thrive where there is isolation, separation and cold despair.

But the readings also reveal the new relationships which are realized in the Kingdom. There is the sense of ongoing communion with the Lord “who continued to work with them.” “God Himself will restore, establish, and strengthen you.” The meaning of our own lives becomes transformed as we allow the power of the Risen Lord to impregnate the depths of our own hearts so that we can know all life as a Paschal experience.