St. Mark, Evangelist
Two Saints by the name of Mark, are mentioned in Holy Writ. The first is Mark the Evangelist, whose festival we celebrate today. The other is Mark, surnamed John, who assisted St. Paul and St. Barnabas in the promulgation of the Gospel. He of whom we speak here was by birth a Jew, of the tribe of Levi. Some say that he was one of the seventy disciples of Christ, but others, more authentic, say that he was converted on the day of Pentecost by the sermon of St. Peter, and was also baptized by this Apostle. Hence the latter, in his Epistle, calls him his son, because he was through him spiritually born again in holy baptism. For the same reason, St. Paul calls Onesimus his son, and wrote to the Corinthians that he had regenerated them through the Gospel.
After St. Mark had been baptized he manifested such zeal in his new faith, that St. Peter chose him as his travelling companion and interpreter. At Rome, whither he went with the apostle, he had the joy to see the effect of the preaching of the latter in the daily increasing number of the converted. When St. Peter was obliged to leave Rome for a time, he gave the newly converted Christians into the charge of Mark. As these most earnestly requested him to give them in writing all that they had heard, from him and St. Peter, of the Saviour’s teaching and miracles, so that they might remember it better and conduct themselves more according to His divine precepts, St. Mark wrote the Gospel which is still extant in the Church of Christ. St. Peter read it after his return and approving of it, sanctioned the reading of it in the assemblies of the faithful. St. Peter afterwards sent his companion into Egypt and other surrounding countries to preach the Gospel, which was done by the Saint with truly apostolic zeal. He went to each city and village, and was so successful in his teaching that not only thousands of idols were thrown from their altars, and numberless heathens adopted the true faith, but the newly converted also endeavored to lead most holy lives. This was the cause that Egypt, until then so addicted to idolatry, became the home of so many hermits and fervent servants of the Almighty. The newly converted were not content with merely discharging the duties which the Gospel enjoined, but observed most scrupulously all counsels given to them by the Evangelists. They divided their property among the poor; possessed nothing as their own; and were extremely temperate, as, after the example of their holy teacher, they abstained from meat and wine, and fasted almost daily. Numberless were those who preserved perpetual virginity. Christians as zealous as these filled the whole land, especially Alexandria, where Mark governed the Church which he had founded, for nineteen years. He had there encountered the most embittered heathens, who could not even endure to hear a Christian spoken of. And yet, notwithstanding this, Mark had increased the number of the faithful to such an extent, by his preaching, his holy life and by the many miracles he had performed on people, by the sign of the Cross, or by calling on the most holy name of Jesus, that the house in which the converts had always assembled to hear the words of Christ, could no longer contain them all, and several additional houses had to be selected.
The idolatrous priests, enraged at this wonderful progress of Christianity instigated the heathens against St. Mark, and endeavored to make away with him. The holy man, fearing that a general persecution of the faithful might ensue, which might lead many, for fear of death, to desert their faith, consecrated Anianus, who had been one of the early converts in Alexandria, and whom the Saint had well instructed in the faith, as bishop, and secretly left the city, to be absent for some time. After two years, which time he employed in visiting other churches, founded by him, he came back to Alexandria. Soon after his return, which could not be kept a secret long, the heathens held a celebration in honor of the idol Serapis, on which occasion many sacrifices were made to this false god. The idolatrous priests, whose rage against St. Mark his absence had not cooled, cried loudly that above all they should search for the Galilean–thus they designated the Saint–and as the most bitter enemy of their gods, sacrifice him to Serapis. The people following these madmen, sought for St. Mark, and found him before the altar offering to God the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass. Binding a cord around his body, they threw him upon the ground, and thus dragged him out of the church and through the streets with such violence, that the whole way was stained, with his blood, and his body cruelly mangled.
At sunset, they threw him into a dark, damp dungeon. During the night, an angel appeared to him, who said: “Mark, servant of the Most High; thy name stands written in the book of life. Thy memory shall never die, and the archangels will receive thy soul into everlasting peace.” Scarcely had this comforting vision departed, when Christ, our Saviour, appeared to him in the same form in which he had lived when on earth, saying to him these divine words: “Mark! peace be with thee!” The joy of the Saint at this vision was inexpressible. He passed the whole night in prayers and praises to God. The following day at early dawn, the barbarous heathens again dragged him through the streets as they had done the day previous, until his soul went to God. During his martyrdom, he ceased not to praise the Almighty, to preach Christ, and to assure all that he considered it great happiness to die for the faith of the Saviour. His last words were those spoken by the Lord upon the Holy Cross: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The heathens would have burned the Saint’s remains, but a sudden hailstorm drove them away, and this gave an opportunity to the Christians to take possession of them and bury them in a cave hewed out of a rock. After many years they were transported to Venice, where at this day they are preserved and held in high honor.
St. Mark, an Evangelist of Jesus Christ, abstained from meat and wine and fasted almost daily, besides leading the newly converted Christians to the same self-abnegation by his precept. Did St. Mark possess the divine spirit of the Saviour and His Gospel? Who can doubt it? Hence the spirit of Jesus Christ, the spirit of the Gospel, is a spirit of mortification; one that incites to self-immolation. Which spirit rules you when you not only detest self-mortification, but permit to your body all that it desires, though this is evidently against the laws of God and the Church. Why do you take such tender care of it and indulge it in all its caprices? Why will you not mortify it in anything? The spirit of the Saviour has not thus taught you; and neither; His spirit nor that of the Church? has hitherto been your guide. Lend him at least your ear, in future and do not permit to your body any sinful pleasures. Deprive it rather, sometimes, even of some of those which are admissible. Punish it, after the example of the Saint, with voluntary penance. “We ought to treat our body,” says St. Bernard; “like one who is sick. We refuse the sick many things which they desire, and which in themselves are not hurtful. In like manner we require of them much that they dislike.” After this fashion treat your body. If you act differently, allowing it all it desires only to satisfy it; the words of St. Paul to the Roman will become true in your case: “For, if you live according to the flesh, you shall die” (Rom. viii.), namely, an unhappy, eternal death.
It was revealed to St. Mark, that his name was written in the book of life. Is your name also inscribed therein? I am not able to answer this question; but I am able to give you the hope that your name will be found there if you act according to the will of the Lord as laid down in His Gospel. In it Christ has shown the path which leads to Heaven. If you follow it you walk towards eternal happiness. He has clearly indicated what is needful to gain salvation, and if you fulfil his commandments, your name will surely be written in the book of life. Instead, therefore, of empty, impure, heretical books, take the Gospel of Christ: in your hand, read it carefully, examine yourself and then consider how you must regulate your life in accordance with it. For, it is not enough to coniess ones self a Christian and to read the Gospel, but one must also live in accordance with its teachings. “Repent, and believe the Gospel:” said Christ in his first sermon to the people (Mark i.). But whoever truly believes the Gospel, not only believes what it contains, but follows its commandments. “How can a man say that he believes in Christ, when he obeys not His commandments,” says St. Cyprian. And I say; how can a man say that he believes the Gospel, if he follows not its precepts, and does not regulate his life in accordance with them? There is no hope for him to believe that his name is recorded in the book of life, if he follows not the teachings of the Gospel. “But all do not obey the Gospel,” writes St. Paul (Romans x.). And this is the reason why the names of so many are not inscribed in the book of life. ” My sheep hear my voice,” says Christ (St. John x.). The sheep that will one day be placed at the right hand of the Lord are the elect. They hear the voice of Christ and obey the calling. That voice sounds in the Gospel. Christ, the Lord, speaks through its words. Whoever wishes to be numbered with the elect must obey the Gospel. “My sheep hear my voice.” Do you hear it?
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.