It’s certainly appropriate that we celebrate his feast day this time of year as we read about the early Church in the Liturgy of the Word. Assuming it is the same Mark, we read of many references to this great saint in the Acts, Paul’s letters to the Colossians, Timothy, Philemon, and of course Peter's first letter!
I have to admit that I am somewhat scandalized when Mark comes up in Acts, chapter 15 (36-41):
After some days Paul said to Barnabus, “Come let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabus wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabus took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
I can’t help but feeling a little disappointed in Mark after reading that passage. I like to think of the great saints and our early Church as men and women who never faltered and exuded confidence and courage. But here we have a reference to a moment when one of the saints did in fact falter. Why did Mark back out? Was it some kind of emergency? Cowardice? We don’t know, but by Paul’s reaction and the split between Paul and Barnabus, I would be more inclined to learn towards the fact that there was a lack of courage.
Before dwelling on this for too long, let’s jump ahead ten to fifteen years later to Paul’s letters. Paul’s second letter to Timothy:
Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. (2 Tim 4:11)
And also the First Letter of Peter, chapter five, verse 13, Peter writes to the Church of Asia Minor:
Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.
It is evident from these comments that despite his earlier failure, Mark did in fact become a prominent enough leader to be mentioned in the letters. He was either well known through his reputation, or by the fact that he did in fact
visit Asia Minor. (some sources even look to him as founding the Church in Africa!)
This is very encouraging to us!
I know there are times in my life where I have failed -- not the kind of failure that one experiences after trying their best. No, I'm referring to failure that stems from being afraid to even
attempt a task. I backed out. I couldn’t face it. I became scared. I was weak.
But I shouldn’t be discouraged, and if you are experiencing this, neither should you. Take a lesson from Mark: he failed at least once but was not deterred from his mission -- in fact, in his perseverance he rose to become a prominent member of the early Church, and a close collaborator with St. Peter. Even if we look to the twelve Apostles we see after the crucifixion of our Lord, they cowered in fear in the upper room -- but went on boldly and bravely to establish Christianity.
We are going to fail at times in this life. All of us (even the earthly saints!) are human, and will not always
succeed. We are going to be paralyzed with fear. We are going to be afraid. The important thing is what is my reaction to the fear. Do I remain frozen? Or do I collect my thoughts, consider the situation wisely, pray about it, talk to people about it, and push forward? Do I follow Mark's example, and not allow a failure to cause me to lose focus?
So on this day that we celebrate this great saint, let us pray for his intercession that we may persevere in our Catholic faith and the mission God calls us to; that we may be filled with the courage and zeal of the early saints of the Church, and be joyful and bold witnesses to the glory of the risen Christ!
St. Mark, pray for us!