On April 25, we celebrate the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, so named because he is one of the writers of the four Gospels (the shortest of the four, but also believed to be the oldest). Through that written account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, St. Mark played a crucial role in the early Church for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the corners of the known world, not to mention the role his Gospel has played ever since in the life of the Church! His contribution to the Church and the salvation of the world is, in essence, incalculable.

But who is St. Mark?

As many of you probably already recognize (even if you haven’t given it much prior thought), Mark was notone of the twelve Apostles. In fact, we’re not even sure that Mark ever had the chance to meet Jesus in the flesh during his lifetime (although some hold that the “young man” referred to in Mark 14:51-52 is the evangelist himself, as it’s a detail that is recorded only in Mark).

Rather, Mark is usually identified with the man from Acts 12 (see especially vv. 12 and 25), reported to us as “John, whose other name was Mark.” Most of what we know, then, of St. Mark is testified to us directly through the early writings of the Church (especially the Acts of the Apostles). Acts tells us that it was John-Mark’s mother’s house that Peter escaped to after his miraculous release from prison, and subsequently, Paul and Barnabas take this John-called-Mark with them on an apostolic mission [from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we subsequently learn that Mark and Barnabas are cousins]. Paul and Mark apparently had a bit of a falling out during one of these missions, the details of which are a little unclear—but importantly, Colossians also hints at a later reconciliation that isn’t reported in Acts. [Proof that these apostolic men didn’t always get along perfectly…so there’s hope for us yet!]

So if Mark didn’t ever meet Jesus, how did he end up writing a Gospel, which is supposed to be a first-hand account of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection? If you’re asking yourself that question, you should pat yourself on the back, because it’s the right question!

That came about through Mark’s special relationship to St. Peter. As we’ve already heard, Peter and Mark knew one another from at least the time of Peter’s sojourn in Mark’s mother’s house—but the reason Peter stayed in that house (as opposed to another) likely indicates that there was some priorly existing relationship between Peter and the members of that Christian household. From that, we can adequately conclude that Mark and his family were clearly early followers of Jesus, even we don’t have proof that they “met” Jesus.

From that friendship with Peter, however, sprung a profound knowledge of Jesus’ life. In the context of their apostolic missions, we can imagine Mark sitting at the feet of Peter (and Paul), learning all the knowledge that the Apostles possessed of Jesus’ earthly life. The closeness of Peter’s relationship in particular to Mark is demonstrated to us in Peter’s first letter (1 Peter 5:13), wherein he calls Mark “my son” [not meant to be taken literally—but as a term of affection]. So Mark was clearly a close disciple of Peter, and you can imagine that in the wake of St. Peter’s death (in AD 64), Mark might have found himself face to face with a conundrum: if we are to continue passing on the life stories of Jesus, if we are to keep the record of the witness of these Apostles, then certainly we have to begin writing down these words! And so it was—Mark began to write what the Church has long considered “Peter’s Gospel,” written from the eyewitness testimony of the Prince of the Apostles himself.

Tradition holds that around the year AD 49, Mark journeyed to Alexandria, Egypt to found the Church of Alexandria, becoming its first bishop. [Subsequently, Alexandria would become one of the five major episcopal sees of the Church, ruled by a “patriarch,” as well as a prominent hub for early Christian theology.] Mark likely wrote his Gospel from Rome in the years after Peter’s (and Paul’s) death, and you can still visit the Basilica of St. Mark where tradition holds it may have been written (it’s right off the Piazza Venezia, where the giant “wedding cake” is). In Alexandria, on Easter day in AD 68, St. Mark was arrested, condemned to death for his faith in Jesus Christ, and was martyred for the faith, having been dragged through the streets of Alexandria by a rope tied around his neck. Buried in the city where he founded the Church, in 828, his relics were smuggled to Italy by Venetian merchants; to this day, the Evangelist’s earthly remains can be venerated in the Basilica that bears his name and stands prominently in Venice’s most famous piazza.

St. Mark, pray for us…and give us a share in your zeal for living and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Keep spreading joy! Fr. Friedel

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