When we celebrate the day of the holy Apostles we do not always fully realise how grateful we should be to them for our present faith in Christ, simply for the fact that we are Christ’s, that we can pray to Him. They were given so much that they might easily have said “that will last me for the rest of my life”, and kept it for themselves. St. John, speaking of the apostolic witness, says that they tell us of what they saw, and heard and touched; of Christ whom they knew as a friend and perceived as God incarnate. Having received such indescribable and fathomless riches, they might just have retired into themselves and lived by this eternity, this glory, by the depth of the new life that had opened for them, because going out to preach was after all a sacrifice. They had to speak of things which were so dear to them that often they would have preferred to keep them secret; but they revealed this secret to the whole world, because the world needed it, and they had learned from Christ to love. The cost of revealing it was high; it was at the cost of their own lives and their own deaths that the Apostles handed on their joy to others. For their early preaching in Jerusalem they were not only driven out, they were beaten, they were put into prison and tormented in various ways. And when they set out into the wide world (which has become rather small for us, but was then measured by walking distances) they walked through deserts, they sailed across seas, they passed through forests, were threatened by robbers, were in danger from tempests; and all this because their hearts were so full of love and pity for everyone that they could not keep the miracle of eternal life, their joy in Christ, to themselves, but had to go on sharing it while they were still alive, and not one of them, except St. John the Divine, died a natural death in old age. All were martyred: some beheaded, some crucified, some otherwise tortured and killed. Yet seeing their friends martyred because of this preaching, the Apostles still continued spreading the news of life and love.
We hear their names read out in church; but how often when listening to this passage in the Gospel people wonder when on earth will this list of names end? What is in these names? Yet behind these names are real, live people. They are not just names, they are the names of those people to whom we owe our present knowledge of God; without them our souls would have been a desert. Let us remember each of these names and repeat it lovingly, as we repeat the name of a beloved person, a brother, father, sister, bride; let us repeat it reverently, tenderly, because these men, simple fishermen, so loved God that they gave their lives for us, for each one of us. After all, every word of the New Testament that touches our souls is the living word of Matthew or John, or one of the other disciples. These men speak to us from the crosses on which they were crucified, from the fires on which they were burned, from the deserts where they were tortured by thirst, from the midst of the seas where they struggled to live in order that they might reach a place where Christ had not yet been proclaimed, a place which had not yet received the tidings of joy, of life, of the living God who had not been ashamed to become one of us, weak and vulnerable. How precious and significant are these names; and yet what do they convey to us? Are we in the least like the Apostles? Is not our aim in church to extract, either from the words of the Gospel or from the joy of brotherly contact with our fellows by faith or blood, all the warmth all the strength and hope, all the love and delight that they can give us? And having extracted them, do we not hoard them in our souls just to enjoy them, instead of hastening, forgetful of self and fired by love, burning with the Holy Spirit, to give them to one of those deprived, thirsting, unfortunate people who have no joy in their hearts, who do not believe in life, who do not know that God believes in them enough to become man and be crucified for them. We have so locked up in ourselves that joy and love wither in our souls. Everything that God gives us is such a force that it cannot be contained in our narrow hearts; it is meant to be used for a full life in earth and in heaven, not for pleasant contemplation. Let us look into the image of the Apostles, their self-forgetting, sacrificial, joyful love, and let us treat each other as they would. Then the world will become lighter, warmer, then Christ will be able to find Himself a place on this earth where He is more and more rejected and brushed aside because we who have been given the message, are unable to keep it even for ourselves. Amen.
Published: NEWS-LETTER No. 41 July/August 1973