Prayers today: Let us shout out our joy and happiness, and give glory to God, the Lord of all, because he is our King, alleluia. (Rv 19:7, 6)
All-powerful God, help us to proclaim the power of the Lord’s resurrection. May we who accept this sign of the love of Christ come to share the eternal life he reveals, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Alleluia.
St. Martin I (d. 655)
When Martin I became pope in 649, Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine empire and the patriarch of Constantinople was the most influential Church leader in the eastern Christian world. The struggles that existed within the Church at that time were magnified by the close cooperation of emperor and patriarch. A teaching, strongly supported in the East, held that Christ had no human will. Twice emperors had officially favoured this position, Heraclius by publishing a formula of faith and Constans II by silencing the issue of one or two wills in Christ. Shortly after assuming the office of the papacy (which he did without first being confirmed by the emperor), Martin held a council at the Lateran in which the imperial documents were censured, and in which the patriarch of Constantinople and two of his predecessors were condemned. Constans II, in response, tried first to turn bishops and people against the pope. Failing in this and in an attempt to kill the pope, the emperor sent troops to Rome to seize Martin and to bring him back to Constantinople. Martin, already in poor health, offered no resistance, returned with the exarch Calliopas and was then submitted to various imprisonments, tortures and hardships. Although condemned to death and with some of the torture imposed already carried out, Martin was saved from execution by the pleas of a repentant Paul, patriarch of Constantinople, who was himself gravely ill. Martin died shortly thereafter, tortures and cruel treatment having taken their toll. He is the last of the early popes to be venerated as a martyr. The breviary of the Orthodox Church pays tribute to Martin: “Glorious definer of the Orthodox Faith...sacred chief of divine dogmas, unstained by error...true reprover of heresy...foundation of bishops, pillar of the Orthodox faith, teacher of religion.... Thou didst adorn the divine see of Peter, and since from this divine Rock, thou didst immovably defend the Church, so now thou art glorified with him.”
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John (3.7b~15)
Jesus said to Nicodemus, "(Do not wonder that I told you,) 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven— the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
In our Gospel passage today, Nicodemus is in wonderment at Christ’s statement that in order to enter the Kingdom of God a man must be born again. The Christian is so accustomed to this teaching that he has probably lost the sense of its radical newness. It is evident from Nicodemus’s difficulty that Christ gave every impression that he meant literally and exactly what he said. A new birth was required. Our Lord did not “tone down” his language, but spoke plainly. We are reminded of our Lord’s teaching in the Synagogue (chapter 6 of the same Gospel) in which he announced the doctrine of the Eucharist. He stated that unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would have no life in them. Why could he not have toned down his language and couched it in less startling terms? It would not have been so divisive. He would have retained his disciples. But no. So important was it for salvation that our Lord, who had demonstrated his almighty power and his truthfulness, judged it necessary to reveal so amazing a doctrine clearly and publicly. His hearers could not understand how such a thing could be done, for all they could think in terms of was the eating and drinking of their everyday experience. So they gave up on Jesus Christ. They could not understand, so they refused to believe. It would seem that the same temptation faced Nicodemus when he heard the doctrine from the lips of Christ of the rebirth that was necessary to see the Kingdom of God. He could not understand, because all he could think of was the normal experience of a person’s birth to life. How could a person possibly be “born again”? I cannot see how it can be, so I cannot see how I can believe. That is the temptation facing the one who hears the proclamation of revealed religion. There are so many things we cannot possibly understand in revealed religion. We cannot understand Christ’s being God and Man. We cannot understand his being one of three divine persons in the one God. We cannot understand the Eucharist. We cannot understand — though we can apprehend — the rebirth by water and the Spirit.
It brings us to the fundamental importance of faith in revealed religion. By means of faith in the word of Jesus Christ we come to know things which we cannot understand. But as our Lord points out to Nicodemus, the reasonableness of this faith is itself not beyond our understanding. By that I mean that it is not hard to understand that we can come to know things which we do not understand, and on the word of one who knows. For instance, there are many things in our ordinary everyday experience which we do not understand, but which we have no doubt exist and occur — on the word of those who know. “Do not wonder that I told you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Our Lord refers to the wind — a natural process many may not understand, certainly in the time of our Lord. No one might understand why it is that polyps causing terminal cancer in a person’s bowel are continuing to appear, but the patient believes — and knows — on the word of the doctor that steps must now be taken. Our Lord is saying that matters of ordinary life show that faith in the word of the one who knows is perfectly reasonable, even if one cannot understand such matters. Faith in matters supernatural is perfectly reasonable, then. Our Lord tells Nicodemus that he and his own know these things — “we speak of what we know,” our Lord states. Perhaps the plural pronoun is an allusion to our Lord’s communion with his disciples and an allusion to the future Church that will speak in his name, and of which he is the head. “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.” Ultimately our authority is divine. We believe on the word of Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. “No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven— the Son of Man.”
Further, and most importantly, this belief is the doorway to life eternal. Faith is the foundation of true religion, and most importantly, of revealed religion. It is the foundation of the Christian life and it takes us to our heavenly homeland. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:7b-15). Nicodemus was a man who tended to rely on what he could understand rather than on the word of Jesus Christ. He overcame his temptation and became a true disciple. Let us follow his example and make faith in the word of our Lord the basis of our whole life.