“Moses probably danced a little, right? You don't part the Red Sea without having some moves.” ~ Dick Van Dyke
Today our Church pauses to celebrate the Memorial of the great Saint Apollinaris, a man sent by none other than Saint Peter himself to Ravenna, Italy to serve as its first bishop, where he was ultimately martyred.in the year 79 AD. Saint Apollinaris is the patron saint of the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy, Aachen, Burtscheid, Düsseldorf, Ravenna, Remagen and yes, he is also the patron saint of those who suffer from epilepsy and the gout. As such, I offered up Holy Communion at Mass this morning for my father, who suffered terribly from the gout in the latter stages of his life. I can imagine their initial heavenly encounter, my father approaching Apollinaris with his Brooklyn accent and disarming smile asking him“Where were ya when I needed ya?”
As for the Israelites in today’s 1st Reading (Exodus 14:21-15:1), a mere case of the gout would’ve been a welcomed upgrade to their collective plight, as they found themselves cornered by Pharaoh’s enormous ensemble of chariots and charioteers, who were poised to re-enslave their fleeing victims. As this suspenseful and dramatic story began to unfold in yesterday’s 1st Reading (Exodus 14:5-18), the Israelites resorted to a form of defeatist-like sarcasm as they complain to Moses “Were their no burial places in Egypt, that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert?” They went on to conclude that it was “Far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians then to die in the desert.” As President Harry S. Truman quizzically and rather humorously once quipped, “How far would Moses have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?”
When we remain in our sinfulness, turning our backs on God’s transformative love and the grace that He pours out upon us by way of the Holy Spirit, we too remain enslaved. Saint Lawrence of Brandisi, whose Memorial we will celebrate tomorrow, said of the power of the third member of the Holy Trinity “The Holy Spirit sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure.”
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:46-50), when Jesus is told that his mother and his brothers were outside the temple in which he was addressing the large crowd and that they wished to speak to him, he asks rhetorically “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He then stretched out his hands in the direction of the crowd and said “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Jesus’ response here is provocative for sure. That He would ask this immaculate and spotless woman, she who was chosen by God from the beginning of time to usher into earthly being the Savior of the World, she who would go on to become the Queen of Heaven, to essentially chill out while He continued to address the sinners in his midst should compel each one of us to examine the priorities of our lives. Jesus’ relationship with His Mother Mary is pristine, this is a given. As such, He has no intention of dishonoring that. But Jesus calls us to reflect upon another relationship, one that is based not on blood but instead on faith. It is the relationship that is borne out of answering the call of Jesus to follow him. We know it as discipleship. This call, this relationship, supersedes all others. Being brothers and sisters in the Lord brings with it a duty to witness to our faith, to bring God’s love and compassion to others, to defend others, especially the poor, the unborn, the marginalized and those in most dire need to assistance.
Being a disciple is a tremendous privilege. It implies that you are a member of the family of Jesus. He looks on you with the same affection that he shows to his mother and brothers. Each of us are tasked, or shall I say once again privileged, to be given this tremendous opportunity to help build God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Let us all eagerly approach this golden opportunity while heeding the words of Saint Jerome, who urges us to “Begin now what we will be hereafter.”
Saint Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr, pray and intercede for us.