Summary: There is no other religion that is so bold as to require forgiveness of enemies, and even doing good for enemies.
Tuesday of 11th Week in Course 2019
Ss Mark and Marcellian
Those who would reduce the status of Jesus Christ to that of a “nice guy who did good things and said nice things” should read this part of St. Matthew’s Gospel several times. Those who would relegate the Church to the scrap heap of history should see how the Church ever since Pentecost Day has spent two thousand years following the command of Christ.
One of my students several years ago said that this command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is the reason he has chosen to be a Catholic. That’s because there is no other religion that is so bold as to require forgiveness of enemies, and even doing good for enemies. I would add that it proves the incisiveness of Christ’s mind, and His perfect logic. For the world to be truly at peace, then each person, each nation has to adopt the habit of forgiveness and love of the enemy, because then there will be no enemies, no war, and adoption of the Father’s attitude toward everyone. The Father forgives, and does good to the good and evil alike, so if we are truly His sons and daughters, we must adopt the same attitudes and habits as God.
Let me add that the command to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” very likely means what modern people say by “getting it together.” It means to be complete, to have every part of life synchronized with the ultimate goal of being in God’s presence forever, and enabling others to do the same according to their abilities. Or, to use an overused phrase, to become the best possible version of yourself.
Let’s apply this to the situation St. Paul found when writing his letters to the church at Corinth. He is collecting for the poor churches, probably the church at Jerusalem that had bankrupted itself when its founders practiced a Christian version of communism, selling off all the productive property to care for its poor members. Paul is comparing the generosity of the Macedonians with the desired generosity of the Corinthians.
Corinth was a trading center because of its location. Lots of goods and money flowed through that port, so the church there had access to funds. St. Paul knows, however, his history. The city states of Greece and Macedonia had been enemies for dozens of generations. Alexander the Macedonian had conquered the whole of the eastern world. Sparta, Athens, and the others were constantly at odds in the era before Christ. So Paul is setting up a more kindly competition between them for the benefit of their brother and sister Christians off in Palestine, a land even more oppressed by the Romans than Greece. “Now as you excel in everything -- in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us -- see that you excel in this gracious work also.”
Our saints today, Mark and Marcellinus, were twin brothers from a distinguished family living in Rome. They were martyred under emperor Diocletian, likely in the year 286. Their story is elaborated in the Acts of St. Sebastian. Their crime was refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Thus they were accused and convicted of atheism and imprisoned. Their pagan parents visited and urged them to sacrifice to the gods, but they refused.
Now here’s where today’s Gospel is pertinent. Their jailer was their enemy, but they prayed for him and exhorted him to believe in Christ. He converted, set all the Christian prisoners free and then skipped town himself. However Mark and Marcellinus were recaptured and executed.
The witness of Mark and Marcellinus and literally hundreds of thousands of martyred saints over the past two millennia should inspire us who are not quite so persecuted as they to remain firm in the faith, pray for all those in the media and politics and commerce who hate the Gospel, and continue our witness to a world that cannot be at peace until they accept Christ’s message. There will be no real peace until we love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. Pray for their conversion. So we can say, Saints Mark and Marcellinus, pray for us.