St Mark the Evangelist

(entered heaven around the year 74)

Dear Marcia,

If they ever let me out of this absurd confinement, I would very much like to take you and your brother on a pilgrimage to Venice.  Three cities in Italy defy description: Florence, Rome, and Venice. I won’t tell you which is my favorite. But I will tell you that I think Venice would be your favorite.  The Mediterranean sun plays gleefully with the waters of the lagoon upon which the city is built, giving Venice two sources of light, the sky and the water. It makes you feel like you’re floating between heaven and earth, especially at sunset and sunrise.  The whole city is built around St Mark’s square, an immense promenade leading into the glittering Byzantine basilica of the same name, where St Mark the Evangelist is buried. (We won’t go into how the Venetians stole his remains from Alexandria in Egypt, where St Mark had planted the Christian faith and been tortured and martyred for it.)  Every inch of the ancient basilica’s interior shimmers with a gold-leaf mosaic depicting scenes from the life of our Lord and portraits of countless saints. The monument is lusciously extravagant and breathtakingly and mysteriously magnificent, inspiring awe even among us jaded post-moderns. The really arresting thing about a visit there, however, is the contrast.  Amidst the invaluable splendor lies the plain, unadorned coffin containing the relics of the man who wrote the shortest, simplest Gospel of them all. I think there is a lesson for us there. God sees the inside of every person’s heart, whereas most of the time we humans are deceived by mere appearances. Someone who is beautiful and talented and popular seems to us more worthy than someone who isn’t; but for God, what matters is the virtue of each person’s soul.  In heaven, the truth will shine forth. The external appearance of everyone will perfectly show forth the beauty of his or her soul (watch out – beggars might end up looking like movie-stars, and movie-stars like beggars). I think St Mark’s basilica gives us a foretaste of that experience. Mark himself spent his few years assisting St Peter and St Paul and gathering small groups of Christians here and there throughout the Roman world. He wrote down what St Peter and the others told him about the life of Christ (the Holy Spirit gave him a hand), and we don’t know much else about him.  But his faith was mighty, and his love for Christ was immense, and now we see a bit of his greatness unveiled. It makes me quite curious to behold the heavenly mansions… May God grant that you and I can tour them together.  

God bless. Uncle Eddy

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