October 28, 2021 - Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles
On this feast of the apostles, we begin our brief meditation insights with the Gospel:
Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.
Jesus prays to the Father throughout the night and then, calling to himself the disciples who followed him, he chose twelve, like the twelve tribes of Israel. These men were very different from each other, taken from all social levels. Among these, at the end of the list, Simon, called the Zealot, and Judas Thaddeus, son of James. We know very little about them: they appear in the list of twelve in the three synoptic gospels and also in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
The Gospel of John, which does not give us the list of apostles, but names most of them in the various episodes of their life with Jesus, makes mention of the question that Judas (“not the Iscariot”, John specifies), asks Jesus: “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”. We can never thank Judas' curiosity enough, because without him we would not have the sublime answer of Jesus: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn 14:22-23). The short letter found at the end of the Catholic Letters in Sacred Scripture is also attributed to Judas, son of James.
The scarcity of certain information should not disconcert us: the apostles are the foundation, chosen and loved by Christ, who have been sent and have transmitted and witnessed the faith to us. The Church was founded on them. With good reason, therefore, the second reading is not taken from the letter of Jude, as perhaps we would expect, but from the letter to the Ephesians, in which St. Paul describes the mystery of the Church, the “apostolic and prophetic” house of God:
Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
No fear, nor uncertainty should upset us: Christ is the support of the whole building, the cornerstone; the foundation is the apostles and prophets; we are built on them like living stones, on the condition that we allow the Spirit to cement us together and make the whole building grow in an orderly manner to be a holy temple, aware of being God's dwelling. The bricks (the strongest and most beautiful stones) are the saints, but every stone, however rough and humble, is necessary for construction, since God, our Savior, wants all men to arrive at salvation and knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4).
The whole universe, even without words, proclaims God’s glory and the salvation that He wants for every creature, as the responsorial psalm says. The apostles and the Church have the task of spreading this message to the ends of the world:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge. Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard; through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message.
Various traditions assign Idumea, Syria and Mesopotamia as St. Simon and St. Jude’s field of apostolate. It seems that they are celebrated on the same day because of their common martyrdom. If the two apostles preached Christ in Asia Minor and the apostle Thomas went as far as India, in distant Korea we have a unique case in the history of evangelization, where the Christian faith did not enter directly through the preaching of the apostles, but rather through the study of sacred texts and books by learned people and transmission of the faith by lay people.
In fact a group of seekers of the truth, struck by the values of Christian texts, after several years, sent one of them to Beijing, to make contact with Christian missionaries and be baptized. He in turn, on his return to Korea, baptized fellow believers. “Mission is a human contact, it is the witness of men and women who say to their fellow travelers: I know Jesus, I would like to make him known to you too” (Pope Francis, Without Jesus We Can Do Nothing. Being Missionary in the World Today, Translated by Barry Hudock, Twenty-Third Publications, 2020)
Thus, in a providential way, what we read today in the epistle came about in Korea:
Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
The young Church of the Far East suffered violent waves of persecution from 1836 to 1867, which killed more than 10,000 people, but also caused a springtime of the Spirit, like in the Church of apostolic times. Saints Andrew Kim Taegŏn, the first Korean priest, and the layman Paul Chŏng Hasang are the leaders of a long line of canonized martyrs.
Here is St. Andrew Kim Taegŏn’s last exhortation before being martyred in 1846, at the age of 44:
My brothers and sisters, my dearest friends, think again and again on this: God has ruled over all things in heaven and on earth from the beginning of time; then reflect on why and for what purpose he chose each one of us to be created in his own image and likeness.
In this world of perils and hardship if we did not recognize the Lord as our Creator, there would be no benefit either in being born or in our continued existence. We have come into the world by God’s grace; by that same grace we have received baptism, entrance into the Church, and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name alone and not in fact? We would have come into the world for nothing, we would have entered the Church for nothing, and we would have betrayed even God and his grace. It would be better never to have been born than to receive the grace of God and then to sin against him.
Look at the farmer who cultivates his rice fields. In season he plows, then fertilizes the earth; never counting the cost, he labors under the sun to nurture the seed he has planted. When harvest time comes and the rice crop is abundant, forgetting his labor and sweat, he rejoices with an exultant heart. But if the crop is sparse and there is nothing but straw and husks, the farmer broods over his toil and sweat and turns his back on that field with a disgust that is all the greater the harder he has toiled.
The Lord is like a farmer and we are the field of rice that he fertilizes with his grace and by the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption irrigates with his blood, in order that we will grow and reach maturity. When harvest time comes, the day of judgment, those who have grown to maturity in the grace of God will find the joy of adopted children in the kingdom of heaven; those who have not grown to maturity will become God’s enemies and, even though they were once his children, they will be punished according to their deeds for all eternity.
Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulations.
For the last fifty or sixty years, ever since the coming of the Church to our own land of Korea, the faithful have suffered persecution over and over again. Persecution still rages and as a result many who are friends in the household of the faith, myself among them, have been thrown into prison and like you are experiencing severe distress. Because we have become the one Body, should not our hearts be grieved for the members who are suffering? Because of the human ties that bind us, should we not feel deeply the pain of our separation? But, as the Scriptures say, God numbers the very hairs of our head and in his all-embracing providence he has care over us all. Persecution, therefore, can only be regarded as the command of the Lord or as a prize he gives or as a punishment he permits. Hold fast, then, to the will of God and with all your heart fight the good fight under the leadership of Jesus; conquer again the diabolical power of this world that Christ has already vanquished. I beg you not to fail in your love for one another, but to support one another and to stand fast until the Lord mercifully delivers us from our trials.
There are twenty of us in this place and by God’s grace we are so far all well. If any of us is executed, I ask you not to forget our families.
I have many things to say, yet how can pen and paper capture what I feel? I end this letter. As we are all near the final ordeal, I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together.
I embrace you all in love.
(Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for the Optional Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Taegŏn and companion martyrs in Korea, September 20)