St. Luke, Evangelist
Among the holy men whom the Almighty chose to write the Gospel, or the history of the life and death, the teachings and miracles of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, was St. Luke, the third of those who are called Evangelists. He is represented with an ox near him, according to the mysterious revelation made to the Prophet Ezekiel; because he begins his Gospel with the revelation of what happened to Zachary in the Temple, where oxen, sheep and other animals were offered, according to the Old Covenant, in sacrifice to the Almighty. St. Luke is said to have been born at Antioch, in Syria, and his occupation, in his youth, was the study of the liberal arts, especially rhetoric, physic, sculpture and painting. It is believed that St. Paul himself instructed him in the Christian faith; hence, St. Jerome calls him a spiritual son of that holy Apostle. It is quite certain that he accompanied St. Paul in the many and laborious travels which the holy Apostle undertook to convert the infidels. Hence he had a part in all the labors, dangers, hardships and persecutions which the Apostle endured. This, however, caused him to be most warmly beloved and highly esteemed by St. Paul, who mentions him in several of his epistles, and among other praises, calls him an Apostle.
At the desire of St. Paul, Luke wrote the Gospel in Greek, as the Apostle was at that time preaching to the Greeks, and also, because this language was very much disseminated. St. Luke relates, in his Gospel, much that is but slightly mentioned by the other Evangelists, for instance, the mystery of the Annunciation and the Incarnation of Christ: from which the holy Fathers conclude that he must have been on very friendly terms, not only with the Apostles, but also with the Divine Mother, as she could give him the best information concerning these mysteries. Another reason is, that St. Luke lived in chastity, and earnestly endeavored to guard and preserve this virtue. The commentators of Holy Writ have also observed, that St. Luke, more than the other Evangelists, gives sinners the hope of divine mercy, and encourages them to repentance, as is seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son, so lovingly received by his father, as also in that of the Good Shepherd, who with great solicitude sought the lost sheep, and brought it back to the fold; again in the history of the sinner who so mercifully receives pardon: in the Samaritan who cares so kindly for the wounded traveller; but above all in the wonderful conversion of the thief crucified with Christ, to whom, when he had humbly and penitentially begged to be remembered, our kind Saviour promised Paradise. St. Anselm gives the reason for this in the following words: “Luke was at first a physician of the body; hence it is that he speaks more than the other Evangelist, of the mercy of our Saviour, who heals and frees men from diseases of the soul.”
Besides the Gospel, St. Luke also wrote a book on the labors of the Apostles,, which is called the Acts of the Apostles. In it he first relates the ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Ghost; and after this what and where the Apostles preached, the miracles they wrought, and the sufferings they endured for Christ’s sake. He further describes the life of the first Christians, and the martyrdom of St. Stephen and St. James. He then relates the conversion of St. Paul, the labors and sufferings of this holy Apostle, which no one could know better than St. Luke, who was his constant companion. During the two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, Luke aided him in every manner; he also accompanied him to Rome, when St. Paul had appealed to the emperor. At Rome, where the holy Apostle was again imprisoned for two years, St. Luke left him not, and allowed no persecution to separate him from his beloved master. When St. Paul was set at liberty, St. Luke accompanied him as before, wherever the unwearied Apostle preached the Gospel. St. Epiphanius relates, that, after the death of the two Apostles, Peter and Paul, St. Luke preached the Gospel of Christ in Italy, France, Dalmatia and Macedonia, with apostolic zeal. The Greeks assure us that he did the same in Egypt, Thebais and Lybia, and that he had great success in converting the infidels.
It is easy to conceive what hardships, dangers and persecutions the holy Evangelist must have suffered in these many wearisome travels and in consequence of his zealous preaching. Yet he was never discontented, never desponding, but always cheerful; because he always thought of Him for whom he labored and suffered, and of the recompense that was awaiting him. St. Jerome writes that the Saint continued his apostolic labors until he had reached his 84th year. St. Gregory of Nazianzum, St. Paulinus and St. Gaudentius maintain that he ended his life by martyrdom. Nicephorus writes that the heathens hung him to an olive-tree, and that thus he died a martyr. It is certain that his life, full of cares and hardships, was a continued martyrdom, the severity of which he increased by severe fasting and other penances. Hence the Church says of him, in the prayer which she offers up to-day at Holy Mass, that he bore the mortification of the cross ceaselessly in his body, for the love and honor of Christ. He ended his glorious labors and sufferings at Patras in Achaia. His holy relics, with those of St. Andrew were brought to Constantinople at the time of Constantine the Great. Long afterwards, they were removed to Pavia; but the head had, some time before, been taken by Gregory the Great to Rome, and placed in St. Peter’s Church. There is a tradition that St. Luke painted several likenesses of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and left them to the Christians to comfort them. To this day several pictures of the Blessed Virgin are shown, which are supposed to be his works. One of these is at Rome, in the Church of St. Mary Major, and another is at Loretto; both of these are venerated by the whole Christian world.
I. How usefully and beneficially did St. Luke employ his pencil, his chisel, his pen, and his tongue:–the tongue to preach the word of Christ,the pen to narrate the Lord’s life and death, the pencil and chisel to make so many edifiying likenesses of Jesus and Mary. Happy those who follow him in the good use of their limbs and the art they have learned! Unhappy, however, those who make their pencil and chisel instruments for pictures which give scandal to others; and who use their pen for sensational, slanderous, or otherwise sinful books and writings; who with their tongues, utter lying, slanderous, unchaste or other sinful speeches, and who greedily stretch out their hands to forbidden objects. The same may be said of those who offend God with eyes, ears, lips, feet or other limbs, and thus misuse members which God, in His mercy, gave them only for good. O how much pain such ungrateful beings will suffer in these members, which they now use only as instruments of wickedness! I call them, not without reason, ungrateful beings; for, I ask you, from whom has man his eyes, ears, tongue, hand, and feet? From none but God, the Lord, who gave them out of the abundance of His mercy. This is a great grace, and if you wish to come to the full knowledge of it, look at those who possess not these members, or have not the use of them; at those who are blind, deaf, dumb or lame. How miserable they are! Hence by giving these members to man, and the full use of them, God has surely shown great kindness to him; and man ought to be duly grateful. If man, however, misuses these members to offend God, he commits a horrible deed of ingratitude. He is not worthy to have the use of his limbs; for, as St. Bernard says: “He is not worthy to live, who will not live for Thee, O Jesus!” So is he unworthy to have tongue, ears, hands, or feet, who uses them as means to offend the Majesty of God. Are you one of this kind of men? Ask your conscience, and correct, while time is left to you, what you have done wrong.
II. St. Luke bore always the mortification of the Cross in his body. He was alwavs cheerful in his work and in his sufferings; never weary or desponding. The love of Christ, and the hope of an eternal reward made everything light and easy to him. If you love Christ with your whole heart, and think frequently on the future recompense, I am confident that you will not become weary at your work, that you will not despond while suffering. Therefore, in future, think often how your Lord suffered for you, and how great a reward He has promised you for your labors and sufferings. “When I see my Lord and God laden with suffering and pain,” says St. Bernard, “it becomes impossible for me not to bear with an easy mind and a cheerful countenance, every evil that assails me.” St. Augustine writes: “If you consider the reward which will be given to you, all that you have to endure will be but trifling.” You will be astonished that so great a recompense is given for so little work; for, in truth, to gain eternal rest, one should perform a long work, and earn eternal joys by long suffering. As, however, the Almighty requires of us only a short work and a short suffering, who dares to complain or murmur? Should we not much rather work and suffer cheerfully? Let us work then, as long as we live, and suffer all that God sees fit to send us.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.