Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dedication of St. Peter and St. Paul

St. Peter’s Basilica is probably the most famous church in Christendom. Massive in scale and a veritable museum of art and architecture, it began on a much humbler scale. Vatican Hill was a simple cemetery where believers gathered at St. Peter’s tomb to pray. In 319 Constantine built on the site a basilica that stood for more than a thousand years until, despite numerous restorations, it threatened to collapse. In 1506 Pope Julius II ordered it razed and reconstructed, but the new basilica was not completed and dedicated for more than two centuries. St. Paul’s Outside the Walls stands near the Abaazia delle Tre Fontane, where St. Paul is believed to have been beheaded. The largest church in Rome until St. Peter’s was rebuilt, the basilica also rises over the traditional site of its namesake’s grave. The most recent edifice was constructed after a fire in 1823. The first basilica was also Constantine’s doing. Constantine’s building projects enticed the first of a centuries-long parade of pilgrims to Rome. From the time the basilicas were first built until the empire crumbled under “barbarian” invasions, the two churches, although miles apart, were linked by a roofed colonnade of marble columns.

“It is extraordinarily interesting that Roman pilgrimage began at an…early time. Pilgrims did not wait for the Peace of the Church [Constantine’s edict of toleration] before they visited the tombs of the Apostles. They went to Rome a century before there were any public churches and when the Church was confined to the tituli [private homes] and the catacombs. The two great pilgrimage sites were exactly as today—the tombs, or memorials, of St. Peter upon the Vatican Hill and the tomb of St. Paul off the Ostian Way” (H.V. Morton, This Is Rome).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (19.11-28)

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: A man of noble birth went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them— bring them here and kill them in front of me.' After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

The End
(Homily by Fr. E.J.Tyler)

It is well recognized that in structuring his Gospel, Luke brought out the climactic character of the Passion and Death of Christ. Our Lord’s final journey up to Jerusalem is given special emphasis, and important teachings are placed in the course of that journey - as he approaches Jericho, as he leaves Jericho, and so on, as the case may be. In our Gospel passage today “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” It seems that there was something about our Lord’s manner and teaching that suggested that “the kingdom of God” was imminent. They had formed the impression that the kingdom of God was about to appear - that is, immediately. As Jerusalem was approached, there was mounting expectation. A little later in the chapter, our Lord approaches the city seated on a colt and is acclaimed of his disciples. They welcome him as the King who had been promised. All this is to say that our Lord had connected his entry into Jerusalem and what would then follow, with the coming of the Kingdom. That general point had been conveyed, even though its detail had been - as usual - misinterpreted. This does remind us of the central role of the Passion and Death of the Lord in the coming of the Kingdom. By means of it, Jesus would, to use the imagery he employs in his parable, go away and be appointed King. Then he would return. That return would occur in multiple senses. He would return at his Resurrection. He would return in his gift of the Holy Spirit to his Church at Pentecost, to remain with the Church in the power of the Spirit to the end. Finally, he would return on the clouds of heaven at his final coming to judge the living and the dead. But the climax of his life and the beginning of the Kingdom would be achieved by his Passion and Death. It was necessary that he suffer in order to enter his glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. The people had not appreciated the Passion, but they had picked up that the Kingdom was near at hand.

However, it was not as they thought. They thought that very soon, they too would experience the glory if they followed him now with acclaim. But no, there was much work ahead for the servants of the King - and it was to be real, industrious, fruitful work. They had to put their heads down and enter into the task, for the man of noble birth would come back as King and demand an account. That is, they had to work with energy and effect for the Kingdom, if they wanted to participate in its glory. And so, while in the parable the man of noble birth goes to a far country to receive for himself the kingdom, prior to his leaving he entrusts his servants with his money (Greek: mna). With that money they were to gain more for the King. We read that “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'” Now, we notice in the parable that there are two groups of persons whom the man of noble birth leaves behind as he goes forth to receive the kingship. There are his servants to whom he entrusts his funds, and there are citizens who hate him and who, when he has gone, refuse to accept his authority. Thus, in very simple terms, is the world divided. There are the servants of Christ, and there are those who do not accept him. St John, in the Prologue of his Gospel, speaks of the Word coming to his own, and his own not receiving him. But to those who do receive him he gives the power to become children of God. In the famous Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola there is the very important meditation on the Two Standards, the Standard of Christ and the Standard of Satan. Those citizens who do not accept him will be condemned when he returns. But the servants too, must face a judgment at his return. Their judgment will be on the industry with which they have served the interests of the King, and that judgment will affect all the servants down to the least. The servant who had done nothing with his master’s money would lose everything.

Our Lord is saying that he, and he alone, is the King. He will come to judge all. Those who wilfully and knowingly refuse his authority will be condemned. It will be a sentence of death. But those servants of his who accept his authority as King and who have been entrusted with the promotion of his Kingdom in their everyday lives, will also face a tribunal. Their judgment will concern the use they have made of the treasure they were given. Let us then use every day of our lives to serve Christ our Lord and to enhance his lordship in the world - for he is coming. When he comes, there will be a solemn judgment, and then his kingdom will have no end.

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