Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unknown Saints

As the celebrations of Easter have ended for most, we have now entered into the even longer Easter season. Regretfully, many people view Easter as the end of something, when in fact it is the beginning, of the season and of eternal life for mankind. The world is totally different now that Christ is risen. It is good to put oneself into the shoes of the apostles, who were so disillusioned by the death of Jesus that they went into hiding, fearful for their lives. Even after seeing the Risen Christ, they still struggled to grasp what it all meant. Simon Peter even considered going back to fishing. It took Jesus 40 days of various appearances to convince them that all was well, and all was new. And not until the coming of Holy Spirit were they able to do something about their mission. I suppose that each of us goes through this cycle to varying degrees. Faith, after all, is about what is not seen, and we live in a world governed by sight, and sound and feelings. That’s not a bad thing, but it can be difficult to cling to the invisible when so much nonsense surrounds us and we are barraged by words and images on a constant basis.

It’s not fair, then, to be hard on the apostles for their actions following the resurrection. For all of their pre-passion bravado, and their awareness of the predictions of Jesus about the rejection and death He was to endure, they were still horrified by the actual reality. I suppose a soldier who is prepared for war goes through something similar when the bullets begin to fly, his friends are killed and he must engage the enemy himself. I literally cannot imagine what that must be like.

One man in the gospels, though, stands out in my mind as a truly brave individual, and I do not even know his name. He was a strong supporter and believer in Jesus before the events of Holy Week took place, and he maintained his faith and courage into the first Easter season. He was not an apostle, nor an apparently prominent member of the early Church, but he was a man of faith and courage, and I cannot wait to meet him and get his take on those events.

He is the man who owned the house where the Lord held the Last Supper. It was his home that Jesus honored with His presence for the institution of the Eucharist, the bestowal of priestly honor upon the apostles by that same act, and it was in his home that the Lord first appeared to the apostles to give them His gift of peace. To his home the apostles fled to meet in hiding while they pondered the events of the death of Jesus. And finally, it was in his home that the Holy Spirit descended upon the newborn Church at Pentecost, 50 days later.

He must have known Jesus during the earthly ministry, for he had the room already prepared for the band of thirteen men who came there in secret to celebrate the Passover. Judas did not know this man, or did not realize his importance, or else he would have arranged for the chief priests to arrest Jesus there. You should note the way that Jesus pointed out this man’s house. Jesus knew Judas was looking for a time and a place to hand Him over, so He kept this house’s location and the owner’s name hidden from everyone, including the rest of the apostles. “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” The Lord had arranged things beforehand, it seems, and wanted the peace and security of anonymity so that He could complete His final instructions undisturbed by Judas’ treachery.

Among many people who get involved in the Church, there is as much of a temptation to think of being part of the “in-crowd” as anywhere else or in any other organization. This is not to be harsh or judgmental of any given person wanting to help out even in public ways with what happens in the Church, but closeness to the “inner circle” of the Church’s official ministry does not guarantee sanctity any more than it guaranteed it for the apostles or other prominent disciples of the Lord while on earth. After all, many disciples left Jesus after hearing about the Eucharist for the first time. They found this saying hard to bear, as Saint John notes.

Holiness is gained not through physical closeness to Christ anymore than being in a garden makes one a plant. The soldiers and chief priests were in His presence, as were Pilate and Herod, and it didn’t give them any advantage. In fact it made things worse for them, in the long run. And being known for great works in the name of the Church does not give a free pass to holiness, for many worked miracles in the name of Christ but may find themselves being told, “I never knew you,” when decision time comes.

The man in whose home the Last Supper, the first appearance of the Risen Christ to His apostles and Pentecost took place was indeed known to Christ even if unknown to us. He may have been the father of Saint Mark, but we do not know for sure, and we will probably not know until judgment day, but this man, along with a host of unknowns throughout history will have places of honor in the Kingdom above others found more prominent to the world.

The three keys are to believe in Christ, to become His true friend, and to open one’s house to Him when He knocks on the door. We not know the day or hour, but we can know for certain that it will happen. Hopefully, we will have a place for Him, furnished and ready.