Saturday, 1 June 2013

St Justin Martyr - 1 June 2013

Readings: Sirach 51:12-20; Psalm 19; Mark 11:27-33

A phrase that has survived into the new English translation of the Roman Missal is this one, from the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer: 'and all who seek you with a sincere heart'. There we pray for all who participate in any way in the Eucharist being celebrated, those present, all God's people, 'and all who seek you with a sincere heart'.

Justin the Martyr whose memory we keep today might well be taken as a patron of all who seek with a sincere heart. A pagan philosopher, his quest for truth took him round the various schools of philosophy operating in the ancient world. He found something in each and likewise something lacking in each. Today's first reading can easily be read with St Justin in mind: 'when I was young I sought wisdom .. I will seek her until the end .. my heart delighted in her .. in cleanness I attained to her'.

The truth Justin sought was not just knowledge about the world, how it is put together and how it works. He sought always a moral truth, what it means to be good and to live a good human life. And he sought a truth that was practical, which enabled its adherents not just to think and to know but to put into practice the truth they had come to see. So he learned from the Stoics and the Aristotelians, the Pythagoreans and the Platonists, eventually finding his way to Christianity and to faith in Christ as the Logos or Eternal Wisdom of God. It was the promise of resurrection, the witness of Christian martyrs, and the longing for the return of Christ, that moved Justin's heart from the philosophical quest to the way of discipleship.

But it did not lead him to reject or despise what he had learned before. Instead he developed a characteristic understanding of how the Logos, the Eternal Wisdom of God, is spread throughout all quests for truth, sparks of it being found everywhere, in all knowledge and science and philosophy, its fulness, however, to be found only in Christ.

Today's gospel gives us an example of what can only be described as an insincere quest for truth. The high priests and scribes put a question to Jesus but are not purely or sincerely interested in the answer. We see it from the way they consider how to answer the question he puts to them. They take a political approach, weighing up the impact on public opinion of whatever they decide to say in answer to him. So their interest is elsewhere, their question is angled, their agenda is not a simple and straightforward desire to know what is true. And think of the significance of their question: they ask Truth Itself about the authority by which He teaches! But they are not disposed to hear His answer and will use whatever he says to further their concern with power and manipulation. In the circumstances, Truth is unable to answer.

Justin, by contrast, answers the questions of Rusticus, the prefect of Rome who had him beheaded, simply, straightforwardly, courageously, and without any ambiguity. Just as he had sought wisdom and truth with a sincere heart, always anxious to profess it, to live it, and to celebrate it in the liturgies of the Church, so he was ready to die for it, confident that the One in whom he had placed his faith would welcome him into His kingdom of light, love, and life.

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