After Vespers on the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday the Church crosses the threshold into the liturgical season – known in Latin as Tempus Per Annum: the time during the year or: Ordinarius Tempore.
There are two liturgical seasons known as Ordinary Time – the first between the end of the Advent and Christmas seasons, which begins after the Epiphany, and this far north it is winter, a time with barely 8 hours of daylight [given the frequency of snowstorms hardly right to say ‘of sunshine’] and is a period of prelude to Holy Lent and then the great Holy Week and the greatest feast of all: Easter – His Holy Resurrection.
This second Ordinary Time is a period of active attentiveness, through living the Gospel awaiting Christ’s return – and should it not happen in our lifetime, no worries, for after these summer days of on average 16 ½ hours of sunlight – yep sunlight – already having re-entered winter the Sunday following the Sunday of Christ, King of the Universe, is the first Sunday of Advent and we renew the pilgrimage deep in the mysteries of Christ.
Perhaps Ordinary Time should be re-named as Extraordinary Time – for it is an extraordinary grace to have time to live and move and have our being each moment of our lives in Christ, through Christ, with the Holy Spirit in communion of love with Them for the Father – in a word to live in communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity.
The template for such living is Jesus Himself as revealed to us in the Holy Gospels:
Vs.31/32= “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.
The Father has borne witness to Jesus [Mt.3:17], St. John the Baptist likewise [Jn.1:29-34], Jesus’ own works such as at Cana [Jn.2:1-11] and indeed St. John himself ends his Gospel account with a witness statement: 21:24ff.
This is important because those Jewish leaders who opposed and challenged Jesus were harking back to the Mosaic Law which determined for testimony to be valid two witnesses were required, a number surpassed by those given by Jesus, even more so by His Resurrection.
Vs.33-35=You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.
Jesus does not focus on the Baptist witnessing to Himself, rather to the Baptist’s witnessing to the truth, which ultimately, if we listen to the truth brings us to the one who IS the Truth, Jesus Himself.
Neither does Jesus argue that He is referencing any witness to focus on Himself as the important issue, He teaches for our salvation, that is always His primary focus when He speaks.
Finally, how human the stark reality His listeners were rather fickle, basking for a time in the phenomena of the Baptist, but moving on to the next flash, the next ‘star’ – and for many that was Jesus and many of them would also reveal their fickleness when Jesus proved too brilliant a light, too sharply the truth and, as we see in Holy Week, many who cried out Hosanna on Palm Sunday would be a frothing mob screaming “Crucify Him!” by Friday.
We live in a time when it is all so very common for people to be elevated to some dizzying height because they appear to have all the answers or some importance in which we can bask and just as suddenly they are turned upon and brought down with no little satisfaction by the very people who elevated them.
Our modern media and the so-called social media are very adept at this elevating and destroying.
As Christians we should ask the Holy Spirit, when it comes to such things, to renew within us His gift of prudence that we, as St. Paul urges: Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. [Col.2:8], and in the Letter to the Hebrews: Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace….[13:9], and St. Peter urges: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. [1Pt.5:8].
Before continuing with the meditation on this critical teaching of Jesus it should be noted again that St. John, of all the Evangelists, gives us the greatest, in length to be sure, perhaps we might argue also in scope, treasury of the spoken teachings of Jesus.
How might it be that of the four Evangelists, St. John is the one who chose – more accurately was chosen by the Holy Spirit – to do this?
What then do we know about each of them?
Unlike other historical figures and the lives of many saints, outside of what may be gleaned from the Gospels themselves, little is known about St. Matthew.
The Gospels texts speak of a Matthew/Levi who as a publican in Capernaum, a Galilean tax collector, likely able to speak, and write, Aramaic and Greek, and in his encounter with Jesus he left everything and became a disciple. [Mt.9:9; 10:3; Mk. 2:14; 3:18; Lk. 5:27]. He was chosen as an Apostle, was present, importantly at the Last Supper, encounters with the Risen Jesus and at Pentecost. Tradition holds after preaching in various countries he suffered a martyr’s death.
An Evangelist, not an Apostle, St. Mark, according to tradition likely travelled with St. Peter through Asia Minor, preaching to and encouraging the communities of Christians along the way and that St. Mark wrote down St. Peter’s teachings – nowadays we would call them homilies – and from those composed what we now know as the Gospel according to St. Mark.
In Acts reference is made to “John called Mark”, hence St. Mark, cousin of St. Barnabas. It is also tradition, drawn from the same passage in Acts [15:36-41] that we see St. Mark eventually arrives in Alexandria, founds the Church there, today the Coptic Church within whose liturgy are elements which can be traced back to St. Mark. It is likely he died there of natural causes.
There is an old expression in French which roughly translated into English means ‘to dream in technicolour’!
The Holy Evangelist St. Luke certainly presents the Holy Gospel to us filled with all the colours and light of marriage, family life, childhood, adulthood, the lives of people, the miracles and words of Jesus, and in the Acts of the Apostles the brilliance of Christian life in all is beauty and yes in all its challenges and suffering.
St. Luke, as best can be discerned was born in Syria and died in Greece an elderly man.
It certainly would appear from the content of the Gospel according to St. Luke that either he was in direct contact with the parents of St. John the Baptist, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, or at least with persons who were, as he details – with imagery and words – are brilliant, in both senses of the word.
St. John, known as the Beloved Disciple – though we must keep in mind Jesus loves everyone and certainly each of us as disciples are beloved – was both Apostle and Evangelist and certainly, as his Gospel account, his letters and his book of Revelation reveal, was also a mystic.
Likely the youngest of the Twelve, described as a son of Zebedee, brother of James, tradition holds he was the only one of the Apostles to die of old age, the others all suffering martyrdom.
Banished, rather than executed, by the Roman authorities to the island of Patmos he trained St. Polycarp who became bishop of Smyrna. St. Ignatius was also trained by St. John, the same St. Ignatius whom St. Peter would appoint as bishop of Antioch.
A Melkite bishop once told me of a tradition he heard growing up about how St. John in his old age, living a somewhat hermitical life on the island of Patmos, would be visited by crowds of Christian youth from the places where the Gospel had already penetrated, in hopes both of seeing St. John and receiving a word from him – guess these were the original World Youth Days!
The bishop said: “Deacons would help the elderly saint from his cave to stand in front of the assembled youth and all St. John would say, simply yet powerfully was: “My little children, love one another.”
Scholars continue to debate the historical accuracy of the biographies of the Four Evangelists, some even debate who wrote which Gospel and when, etc., - more powerful than such arguments are the texts themselves: …. in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place." This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2). [see the Documents of Vatican II, Dei Verbum, Ch. II, paras. 7,8ff.]