St Mark the Evangelist

(entered heaven on this day probably in the year 68)

Dear Marco,

I think the trouble you have stirred up with your editorials in the campus newspaper is a good thing.  You never attack individual people or let your rhetoric get the best of you.  You always appeal courteously and logically to ideals and values that ought to be defended.  So your conscience, on that point at least, can be at ease.  But that still leaves the other point you bring up: how to react to the biting responses these articles are eliciting.  Well, if I were you I wouldn’t heed them at all.  Let them snarl and roar; you stay focused on finding and spreading the truth.  And if their bark turns into bites, just take it in stride and use the suffering and humiliation to unite yourself more closely to Christ.  That’s what today’s saint had to do – he too was a writer who suffered for defending the Gospel.

As with many of the early Christian saints, we don’t know with certainty the background of St Mark.  It seems that he was Barnabas’s cousin and the son of an important lady in Jerusalem named Mary, in whose house Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Last Supper.  He may also be the young man who spied on events as they transpired in Gethsemane and was seen fleeing from the soldiers in nothing but his pajamas (only the Gospel of Mark records this event – most scholars think it is kind of like his signature on the work).  In any event, he traveled with St Paul on his first missionary journey, then worked as St Peter’s assistant and secretary in Rome, where it seems the Roman Christians asked him to record in writing all that Peter was telling them about Jesus.  This was the origin of the Gospel according to St Mark.

St Peter sent him to spread the Gospel in North Africa soon before the first persecutions in Rome would take the venerable Apostle’s life.  St Mark made excellent progress, establishing churches in Libya, and building up a vibrant community of Christians in the great Egyptian metropolis of Alexandria – the second city of the Empire at the time.  Things got a little hot there, however, about the same time that things were getting hot in Rome.  Mark put the Alexandrian church in charge of Anianus, a shoemaker who had hosted the evangelist upon his arrival, whom he ordained a bishop.  After making the rounds of the other African churches, he came back to see how things were going in the Egyptian capital.  This was after actual persecutions had broken out.  Christians were being taken and executed under the vague terms of a Neronian law against them.

Some zealous enforcers of this law found St Mark celebrating Mass and apprehended him.  Discovering how important a person he was for the early community, they took special delight in publicly humiliating and torturing him.  They bound him, tied a rope around his neck, and dragged him through the streets of the great city and across the rocks of the area surrounding its port.  After a full day of such sport, the battered saint was thrown into prison for the night, which he passed in prayer.  It is even said that he was graced with two visions on this eve of his martyrdom.

The next day he was harnessed once again and the gory taxi ride resumed, until Mark expired.  Having irrigated the Church of all times and places with the refreshing words of his straightforward and vigorous Gospel, he also irrigated the great pagan city of Alexandria with the ever fruitful seed of his martyr’s blood.

If in your current situation you feel as if your critics are taking you for an uncomfortable ride, you may derive comfort and encouragement from the example and prayers of someone equally familiar with such rides.

Your loving uncle,


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