Feast Day: April 25
Symbol: Winged Lion1
Revered in both the Latin and Greek Church
Patronage: Barristers, Notaries, Venice, Egypt
We owe so much to our forefathers in faith – to the apostles and first Christians, and especially to the handful of men who put down in writing all that they had seen and heard. Because of their faithfulness, their bold witness, and their audacity, we have the Holy Scriptures that we do today. But what do we know of these men? They were an eclectic group, to be sure – fisherman and tax collectors, some highly educated, others not at all. But the one thing they had in common was their love for Jesus and a desire to proclaim His message – the truths they had come to believe.
St. Mark is one such man. Of the four Gospel writers, he’s the only one believed to have not known Jesus personally. It’s unlikely he witnessed the many miracles Jesus performed or even heard Him preach.2 Nevertheless, Mark left us an accurate, authentic, and living testimony, affirming Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.
Most scripture scholars know Mark to be John Mark, the disciple and ‘secretary’ of Peter.3 Some believe that his Gospel account was the first to be written, but others assert it came later – in response to requests from the Christians of Rome to record the preaching of Peter.4 Equally important was his association with the Apostle Paul, whom he accompanied on his first missionary journey.5 Other details about the evangelist’s identity emerge from the Scriptures themselves: “… he was a cousin of Barnabas,” and “a son of Mary, a woman in whose house the church of Jerusalem used to gather.”6 According to Tradition, after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, Mark was the first to establish churches in Alexandria in Northern Egypt, which accounts for his veneration in the Coptic Orthodox Church.7
The Gospel of Mark is sometimes criticized as being merely a shorter version of Matthew’s and lacking the eloquence and poeticism of other writers. But it has great value as an eyewitness account (Peter’s), placing its readers firmly in the time and events of Jesus’ life.8
Another important feature of Mark’s Gospel is the urgency of his message. For instance, in the span of just a few short verses he repeatedly implores his readers with Jesus’ words saying, “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear!” He wants to emphasize the necessity of our cooperation in order for God’s Word to take root. In other words, if we don’t get what Jesus is asking of us, perhaps it’s because we haven’t taken it to heart. We are given everything we need to know Christ and follow Him – every grace and gift – but we must respond to that grace so that it will bear fruit.
Two summers ago, my family and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy. Our first stop was Venice, where inside the magnificent church of San Marco, we discovered the relics of the Saint himself. Because we were so awed by the beauty and grandeur of the basilica and the piazza, and of just being in Venice in the first place, I don’t think we fully appreciated what an incredible privilege this was – to be so close to the mortal remains of a man who had been a contemporary of Jesus and one of Peter’s closest companions. You might say Mark was the right-hand man of the first pope! But now in retrospect, I understand how important the saints are to us – not only the role they played in establishing the early Church, but also the legacy they leave for us today.
In a certain respect, we should praise St. Mark all the more because he didn’t know Jesus, yet he believed. Rather, he might not have met Jesus, but he certainly knew Him. Like all of us, he came to know about Jesus from what he was taught – through what was handed down from Peter and the apostles and all those who had been witnesses.
What can we learn from his example? Well, for one, that we are all evangelists! The instructions of Jesus to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”9 wasn’t just for the apostles or first Christians – it’s a message for all of us. God has chosen us to share his love and mercy with all those we meet, no matter who we are and regardless of the state of life in which we find ourselves. It won’t be easy, but our Heavenly Father is faithful, promising that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be strengthened and able to stand for truth – even in the face of opposition or outright persecution. Christians in many places throughout the world today are demonstrating this powerfully, sometimes with their very lives.
That being said, God wants to us all to be missionaries — which doesn’t necessarily mean leaving our homes and traveling to some distant land. But we do have to leave our comfort zone in order to tell others what God has done for us. In this day and age, that means potentially being ridiculed or scorned, being seen as intolerant, and perhaps even being called a ‘bigot.’ As the world becomes increasingly hostile to the Gospel message, we must find ways to speak about our faith with naturalness and simplicity, but speak it nonetheless. We must never cease to stand for truth – for He who is Truth.
In this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the emphasis isn’t merely on experiencing God’s endless mercy – of that we can be certain. But it’s also a reminder of our own mission, the role the Lord is inviting each of us to play. We are called to reach out and extend that same mercy to all those we meet, applying the balm of mercy and compassion and giving hope and healing to a very broken world.
– Kelley Holy
1 St. Mark, represented as a lion, is derived from the prophetic visions contained in the verse Revelations 4:7. The lion is one of the four living creatures described in the book around the throne of the Almighty. Hence, they are chosen as symbols of the four evangelists: Matthew is depicted as a human, Mark as a lion, Luke as a bull, and John as an eagle.
2 There does not appear to be a definitive answer – or any real consensus – on this point.
3 He’s called Mark in Acts 15:39, both John and Mark in Acts 12:12 and 15:37, and John in Acts 13:5-13. The commentary from the Navarre Bible explains: “It was quite common at the time for Jews to have two different names – here, a Jewish name, John (Yohannan) and a Hellenized Latin name, Marcus or Markos.” Eusebius of Caesarea spoke of Mark as a “disciple and interpreter” of Peter, whereas Papias of Hierapolis called him Peter’s amanuensis: a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what another has written.
From The Navarre Bible: New Testament (in the Revised Standard Version with a commentary by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre); Scepter Publishers: New York, 2008; 157.
5 Acts 13:5
6 Colossians 4:10, and Acts 12:12, respectively.
7 Cf. St. Mark; New Advent [online website]; Internet; accessed 10 March 2016; available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09672c.htm.
8 Navarre, 157; Again, as the commentary notes, “… a close examination of the passages in which Mark gives more anecdotal information than the other Synoptics reveals that Peter is always present.”
9 Mark 16:15