When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. (1 Pt 2:23)
Today’s first reading presents an extremely profound statement that would be quite at home in any book of proverbs: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.
First of all, this sentence is a conditional. St. Peter is telling us that it is only a grace before God if or under the strict condition that one suffers patiently for doing what is good. Sadly, many people suffer patiently for doing what is bad. There is no grace there.
Only when one suffers for something good and virtuous and pleasing to God does it conform to grace. Not only this but every act of Christian patience has its source in God. Since through our baptism we are inalterably joined to the vine of grace, any patience that we practice as believers originates as a gift from the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:5). As taught in the Parable of the Talents all grace begins with the Father and returns to him with interest (Mt 25:27). Yet, for grace to run its full circuit it must have our eager cooperation.
St. Peter tells us in today’s holy liturgy that Christ is our perfect example of patience. Jesus returned no threat when He might have used His divine authority to exact justice against his persecutors. In fact, Jesus sought no justice from man, but only from his Father, the one and true just judge! Not only did Jesus not curse his enemies, he blessed them with “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Hence, we place on our parish bulletin cover for this 4th Sunday of Easter a work by the Early Renaissance master Antonello de Messina entitled Christ Blessing (1465). Antonello was named “de Messina” for having been born in the Sicilian city of the same name. Messina was first an ancient Greek colony. It was a vital seaport across from the toe of the Italian peninsula. Antonello eventually traveled to Naples, another coastal city in Italy, where he was exposed to Netherlandish painting which was prevalent there. It is said by some that he introduced oil painting to Italy (source: Wikipedia).
This work of oil on wood is a fine example of quattrocento portraiture (i.e. the Italian 15th century). The figure of Christ is still traditionally statuesque, yet the expression is a snapshot of vibrant activity. The eyes of Christ are clear and piercing, penetrating the soul of the observer with gentleness and love. De Messina has found a way to impart compassion from a face with closed lips. The hands of Christ are most interesting since they appear as a separate feature! With most of the humerus muscle, all of the elbow and most of the forearm unseen, Christ’s hands are not clearly joined to His body. This allows Messina to create a distinct artistic space to present Our Lord’s hands with the delicate fingers of a child. This is not to portray unmanliness, but to emphasize the peaceful nature of Christ’s merciful blessing.
This image calls us to the same peacefulness asking us to avoid using threats or insults on the part of Christ. Instead we are to act as Christ, offering judicious blessings that will move the wayward and the vicious to a conversion of heart.
The title “Mother of the Church” was first used by Pope St. Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council. It reflects the two ways in which the Blessed Virgin Mary is our Mother: not only is she the mother of Christ, the head of the Church of which we are part, but also as a fellow disciple who prays for us, that we may be faithful just as she is.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of our Redeemer, and therefore the mother of our Salvation. Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5), yet He has also allowed Mary to participate in a special way in His plan of salvation. To honor the Blessed Virgin Mary is to honor the God Who did such great things through her, while also to recognize that her cooperation with God’s plan is the perfect model of our free will cooperating with grace. In this she is not only a model for all believers, but also the mother of all believers and the mother of the Church.
The great theologian Fr. Henri de Lubac once reflected how, when Jesus was dying on Calvary, Mary’s faith was the faith of the Church – in that she was the only believer whose faith was not at least shaken by what she was seeing. In these troubling times, may her prayers help us to be faithful to God, just as she is!
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services