Saint Mark the Evangelist

st marks

When Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his Papal Mass in 2008 at Nationals Park in Washington, the dramatic large crucifix over the altar fittingly came from Saint Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville.

Like the evangelist whose Gospel shares the Good News of Jesus, that magnificent crucifix, along with the Eucharist celebrated at the altar at the Papal Mass and at its parish church, speaks to us of how Jesus redeemed the world by dying on the cross and rising to new life.

The Gospel of Saint Mark, like every crucifix, tells a love story – the story of how Jesus taught and lived a gospel of love. Then with love he opened his arms on the cross to save us from sin and death, and through his resurrection, showed us the way to eternal life, with and through him.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Saint Mark, like his cousin Saint Barnabas, was a missionary companion to Saint Paul on his first journey, and he also later accompanied Saint Peter in Rome. The historian Eusebius reports that Mark then took down the teaching of Peter, which formed the gospel bearing his name (Church History, II:15).

This shortest of the four gospel accounts is believed to have been written first, before 70 A.D., when early Christians, like many Christians today, were facing persecution. Saint Mark’s vivid gospel account of Jesus as the Son of God bringing love and healing to the world gave those early believers strength to endure in their faith and share it with courage and zeal, a message that continues to resonate today.

On the feast day of Saint Mark the Evangelist on April 25, the gospel reading is from the final passage from the evangelist’s account. Jesus appears to the Apostles and gives them the great commission, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” (Mark 16:15-20).

In a real sense, this ending is really a beginning. The month after his election in 2013, Pope Francis noted in his homily for Mass on the feast of Saint Mark that Jesus’ call to share the Good News is now the work of today’s Christians. “The Church continues to preach this to everyone, all over the world. But she does not go forth alone: she goes forth with Jesus,” he said.

The new pope from the Americas, who had earlier introduced himself as coming “from the ends of the earth,” encouraged today’s Christians to “become missionaries in the Church, apostles in the Church,” with greatness of spirit but also humility. “When we go forth with this magnanimity and humility,” he said, “when we are not scared by the great things, by the horizon, but also take on board the little things – humility, daily charity – the Lord confirms the Word. And we move forward. The triumph of the Church is the Resurrection of Jesus. But there is first the Cross.”

About one month after that blessed Mass with Pope Benedict, I returned to Saint Mark the Evangelist Church to celebrate the Eucharist at the altar there, where the dramatic crucifix again hung overhead, suspended by two pieces of airplane cable. In my homily, I noted how the risen Christ breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and sent them forth.

For 20 centuries, that same action has continued, as the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Church today, on you and me, with the same power to open our hearts to Christ and to change the world by being witnesses to Christ’s love and new life, a story that unfolds in Saint Mark’s Gospel and in our lives, here and now.