Initial B: The Trinity, probably from a medieval choir book, Crivelli c.1465, The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA.
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Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9.
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Today’s readings range from the ultra mystic, the Trinity itself, to the utterly mundane, people arguing in the early church about who is getting the better, or bigger, dinner portions. From those days to these, such has been the range of disputation within Holy Mother Church. The mystery of Three Persons in One God still challenges the experts, at the same time as we argue, and I’m treading on eggshells here, whether we should allow Mass in the vernacular or in Latin, both being valid yet prompting huge argument which has gone on for years. Today’s first reading tells the story leading to the institution of the diaconate in the early Church, deacon, diakonos or διάκονος in Greek, meaning servant or helper. That is straightforward. Jesus saying that to see him is to see the Father is not. What does he mean? We struggle with the meaning and will almost certainly still be searching when we hear the trumpet calling us to the Last Judgment when all will, at last, be revealed. So, as a suitable via media, or middle way, let us take a look at the second reading today, taken from the first letter of St. Peter.
This epistle, a word meaning letter, in the New Testament was sent to the persecuted early Christians in the Middle East. The author uses the language of encouragement and exhortation to rise to the challenges they are facing and maintain the faith:
…let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices…
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises” of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
So the people for whom this letter was written were seemingly under threat of persecution or were actually being persecuted. They were following, it says, in the footsteps of the Lord himself who had been rejected by human beings. More even than that, the letter states that these persecuted early Christians were the foundations of the new Christian spiritual house where there had been nothing before. Some things never change. We today do not have to be under active persecution for our belief to be under attack. The demons of money, drugs, power, consumerism and so on, are constantly at our door. In that bleak landscape, today’s Scripture tells us to hang on, act on our belief in the Lord who is so close to God that he and God (our Father) are one. And he was “the way, the truth and the life” for them (and also the same for us) to follow, no matter what. So although their lives were under pressure, even danger, the author of 1 Peter attempts to strengthen their faith and urge them to carry on. That is a message as clear and as strong today as it must have been 2000 years ago. And what it all promises is also as important. This is to say it gives us a clear foundation on what to base our life, to carry on our life, and to look forward to a life way beyond anything we can imagine. Remember how often Jesus began his teachings by saying “The kingdom of heaven is like….” Well that suggests that if we follow that teaching, a deep sense of satisfaction and even happiness is the result; a sense of heaven here and now. So heaven is not only a wonderful goal, but can be present in the here and now, truly the way, the truth and the life.
Papyrus Bodmer VII-IX, oldest known copies of the Letters of Jude, 1 Peter and 2 Peter, 3rd-4th Century, unknown writer, Vatican Library, Vatican City State.
It is in studying documents such as this that scholars create a picture of the church in its earliest days. They are entirely in what is called koine Greek, namely the common Greek spoken in the street at that time. In studying these ancient documents and the earliest reports of what the early Church practices were back then that changes can be considered. In mentioning the Latin Mass today, the Mass with with which I grew up and thought immutable, study of early church documents make it very clear that the Mass was said in the language of the local church. Hence that change was implemented throughout the modern church. Such changes can only be made with support from scripture and early tradition in the Catholic church.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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