Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Clement I

"Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
“Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Going with the recent theme, we’re on to the fourth pope of the Church, Pope St. Clement I, who served as Bishop of Rome from 92 to 99 AD.  He is an Apostolic Father, meaning that he knew St. Peter and St. Paul, well enough to be mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3 and to be ordained a bishop by Peter.

Like St. Paul, he was a bit of a writer, but his most important (and most authentic) letter was to the Corinthians.  It’s not part of Scripture by only a few years, but it’s incredibly important!  The letter gives us a glimpse of what the Church was like just 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The people of Corinth were getting in trouble again, this time for starting to think they didn’t really want their bishop or priests.  So St. Clement wrote the community to teach them about what the apostles intended (he knew them, by the way) and what was the right thing to do.

One reason why the letter is so important is that it distinguishes very clearly the different, but important roles of the presbyters (what we call priests today), bishops, deacons, and laity.  Think about that – it’s 96 AD!  Vatican II wouldn’t happen for another 1800+ years!  Sometimes people think that priests, deacons, and bishops were invented later on as the Church got bigger, but as this letter shows us, things got very organized, very quickly.  Clement tells us that it’s because people get into fights (you know…like YOU CORINTHIANS) that the apostles provided for the succession of authority in the Church.

The other interesting thing goes back to why the letter was written.  Clement makes reference that the Corinthians actually sought him out for his attention and teaching.  Now why would the Corinthians, all the way over in Greece, write some guy in Rome?  Because he’s the pope, of course!  The idea and role of the papacy was still very primitive in the 1st century, but already, the Churches all over the world were looking to him as an authority!  That’s pretty cool!

The Church celebrates St. Clement as a martyr, although we’re not really sure how his death came about.  Legends were written about his death, and they’re probably based on at least a little truth, so let’s just go with it.  The legends say that when Trajan came to power in Rome in 98 AD, Clement was imprisoned and sent to work in a rock quarry near present-day Crimea.  When he arrived at the work camp, he found the prisoners starving from lack of water, so he knelt down in prayer, got up, and struck the ground with his pickaxe, releasing a stream of clean water.  I guess the Romans didn’t like that much, because he was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea (ouch!).  Today, his relics are housed in the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome, named in his honor.

It’s neat and sometimes surprising to see how alive and organized the Church was in these early times.  But wait!  There’s more popes to come!

Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Cletus

saintc48Today we continue the list of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon, and incidentally, we continue on down the line of the first popes.  Peter, of course, was the first, and St. Linus, who we discussed last week was the second, and that would make St. Cletus the third.  He is also referred to as St. Anacletus, so pick whichever name you prefer.  I’m going to stick with St. Cletus out of respect to our neighbors in St. Charles, for whom he is patron!

By all accounts, which are very, very few, St. Cletus was a Roman, born of Roman parents, and lived in Rome.  We don’t know much about his life prior to (or heck, even during) his papacy, but the fact that he was the third bishop of Rome shows his virtue among all the other disciples of St. Peter.

St. Cletus apparently wanted to do what he could to be more pastoral and take care of the needs of the people of Rome, and since the Roman Church was so large, he needed to harness his skills of organization to do it!  He was the first to establish 25 parishes in Rome, and ordained a number of priests to serve in them.  Incidentally, the 25 highest ranking Cardinals in the Church are still named as honorary pastors to these parishes today!

St. Cletus was martyred under the Emperor Domitian around 92 AD.  Domitian’s persecution was the first of the truly organized persecutions of Christians in the Empire.  Sure, Nero killed a number of Christians in 64 AD, including St. Peter and St. Paul, but for the most part, Nero was just lashing out.  Domitian’s persecution was organized and very harmful.  Those accused of being Christians were brought before a tribunal, and told to take the oath to the Roman Gods and the Emperor.  Not giving homage to these gods was considered unpatriotic and atheistic, so many of the early Christians were ironically tried as atheists.  When Christians refused the oath, they were condemned.  The victims were numerous, including Antipas (mentioned in Revelations 2:13) and members of the Emperor’s own household, which tells you how much Christianity had spread in just 60 years.  St. Cletus was one of those put to death as well, and was buried under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome next to his predecessor, St. Linus.

Well, two down, and a few more popes to go!  See you next week!

Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Linus

220px-Pope_Linus_IllustrationOver the past few weeks, we’ve gone through the early apostles and learned a little about their lives and the greater traditions surrounding them.  The apostles were genuinely fantastic figures, from all we’ve been able to learn from them!  But Eucharistic Prayer I is unique in that it also throws out there a lot of names that we don’t usually hear about as much: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, and on.  The theory is that these names were mentioned in the prayer because they meant so much to the faithful of the Church in Rome.  Members of the Church there would have known these individuals and would have heard their preaching.  The prayer comes from ancient times, so these names were their contemporaries.

So following the list, our first saint is St. Linus.  No, he wasn’t famous for holding his security blanket and waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  Everybody knows that St. Peter was the first pope, but do you know the second?  That’s right!  Pope St. Linus!  Many of the early Fathers of the Church attest to this as well, and he is even mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy.  How appropriate, because he was an associate of St. Paul, and most likely ordained a bishop by the Apostle himself.  St. Linus, therefore, might be considered one of the “Apostlolic Fathers,” that generation of saints who weren’t apostles themselves, but who knew the apostles and succeeded them in their ministry.  We will continue to hear about the Apostolic Fathers in the near future.

Statue of St. Linus Portico Ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Statue of St. Linus
Portico Ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Typically, the Church celebrates St. Linus as a martyr, as we do most of the other first popes, but it’s unclear how true that is.  Certainly St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in Rome under the Emperor Nero, and it might be possible that St. Linus was caught up in the aftermath of that, but after Nero, there were very few open persecutions until Domitian, who reigned 13 years later.  Still, St. Linus could have suffered what the Early Church called a “white martyrdom” in his sufferings for the faith.  After his death on September 23 (his feast day is coming up!), St. Linus was buried on the Vatican Hill in Rome, next to St. Peter.  Today, his remains are believed to be in a tomb near the apostle under the great St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tune in next week for another pope!

Homily From the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

My mom makes some absolutely killer brownies.  They’re soft and gooey, and they have chocolate chips in them that just melt in your mouth when you eat them.  And my dad is a real pro at the grill as well.  Whether it’s porksteaks, brats, or burgers, my dad has it covered.  And combined with my sister’s potatoes, I think it’s just a little piece of heaven right there.  Why is the world would I want to hate these people?

Why in the world would Jesus want us to hate any of our family?  This is a line in the gospel that can really shake us to the core.  People tend to gloss over this when they’re reading the scripture because it’s a tough passage.  But look at his circumstances.  Jesus was starting to get pretty popular as a teacher, and was starting to get quite a following, crowds even, as we hear in the Gospel.  But maybe he looked up and saw all those people, and wondered if they really understood what they were getting into, what the cost of discipleship really was.  You know here in the US, 76% of citizens have identified themselves as Christians.  And of those people, a little over 25% called themselves Catholic.  In a stat taken from the combined population of the US and Canada in 2008, there were 68,115,001 Catholics out there.  That’s how many people are following Christ.  Or at least, that’s how many people claim to follow Christ.  But do they really know what that means?  Do we really know what it means?

We’ve all grown up knowing that loyalty to our family is important.  If there’s one thing that we learned from the Godfather that’s appropriate enough to mention in this homily, its that the family is everything.  So why would we take Jesus’s word to hate them?  What he’s saying here is that we can’t make our family more important in our lives than God.  To many people, their religion is just something they have to do, and at best, it’s a hobby or a cultural association to them.  But God should be our central concern.  Our families won’t last forever, but something else will last forever, and that’s heaven.  And so our family should lead us to that thing that last forever.  Our familes should be places of growth for all people involved in helping each other to heaven.  But if they don’t, if our families lead us away from Christ instead of toward him, then we have to be willing, if we’re going to follow Jesus, to put them behind us.  If our families are more important to us than Christ, we’re following our families, and not the Lord.

But then Jesus just twists that dagger further into our hearts when he tells us that we should hate even our own lives.  Protecting our lives is something central to us.  Isn’t everything out there supposed to be helping us to live better lives?  Unfortunately, many people think that is true, and that our faith is simply a sociological tool meant to increase our physical and mental well-being – it’s a coping mechanism for those tough questions, or a remedy for bad mental health.  Nietzsche even thought that religion was a tool for keeping some sort of morality around, to keep us from killing each other.  But in reality, it’s the other way around.  Our lives are completely and totally oriented to God.  In theology, it’s what we call “Exitus-Reditus,” that our lives are coming from God as our creator, and then return to him as our final goal.  And so everything in our lives, whether it be our family, our possessions, and even our own lives, should be there for the sake of God, for the sake of sharing an eternal happiness with him forever.

Putting aside things that don’t lead us to God can be a real sacrifice, a real burden.  But as Christ tells us, we have to carry our own crosses and follow him.  The real Jesus, the real Christ, is always walking toward the Cross.  And so when we’re saying that we’re going to follow Jesus, what we’re really saying is that we’re going to follow Jesus to the Cross.  That’s the reason that as Catholics, we have crucifixes.  We don’t have a resurrexifist hanging from the ceiling, we don’t have a buddy Jesus giving us a thumbs up when we walk into Church.  We realize that the only way to get to the resurrection, to get to God’s promise, is through the Cross.  And so we have to be willing, when we walk into this Church, and when we walk out, to die to ourselves, and to die with Jesus.  Jesus knew it was coming throughout his whole ministry, and so he directed his entire life and ministry to the Cross, knowing that it was what the Father had asked him to do to save us all.  And so we need to know also why we’re walking to the Cross.  It’s not for ourselves, so that we look good.  It’s not for other people, or because the person next to us is doing it, it’s for Christ.

We need to look at this faith, we need to look at why we’re here, and know what we’re getting into.  Like building a tower, or a highway, or an entrance ramp onto Highway 70 from Mid Rivers Mall Drive, lets say…if MODOT keeps building things the way they’ve been building them, is the highway going to reach its destination?  If we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them, are we going to get to the end that we’re hoping for?  Maybe this is an opportunity, a challenge, to look around us in our lives and see where they’re leading us.  And if those things aren’t leading us to Jesus, maybe it’s an opportunity to try to help them to do so, particularly among family and friends.  Perhaps its an opportunity to build each other up by praying as a family before meals or before you go to bed.  Maybe its an opportunity to spend some time in prayer as a family and go to Mass together.  Whatever it is, see that it helps your family to lead each other to Christ as your end.

And so as we approach the Eucharist today, as we approach the object of our love and the one that we follow in Christ, let us ask the Lord for the courage to take up our Cross, leaving behind all that doesn’t lead us to him, and to follow him.  Let us offer our lives here on the altar with him, and in doing so, to grow in that desire to spend an eternity with him in heaven.  Amen.