Noble obscurity

Noble obscurity

We know very little about Sts Simon and Jude, despite their significance as apostles of the Church chosen by Christ. This is perhaps an indication of just how well they understood the task they had been given.

Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-19

This homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. Listen here or read below:

The Apostles are the foundation stones of God’s household. They are the building blocks of our faith. It is they to whom Christ shared the fulness of Himself. They are chosen to be the bearers and guardians of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. They were chosen to be sent, to proclaim that revelation, that saving Gospel. And in proclaiming it, their preaching formed the one source of revelation for all future ages to come. Christ spoke to the apostles, and they in turn bore the Word to us.

And as such, the Gospel we have just heard, the choice of the Twelve, is a truly seminal moment in salvation history. Christ is choosing the individuals appointed to bear his saving Gospel to the whole world. The master craftsman is choosing the materials for his own house.

As is often the case in St Luke’s Gospel, the significance of this moment is marked by Christ’s preparation for it: “all night he continued in prayer to God”. And the location too is loaded with significance. He is up a mountain, that place of divine encounter, and where not long hence Christ himself will be transfigured before three of his apostles.

Of these twelve, two we celebrate today. Simon the Zealot is one. Whether his nickname is due to a political association or his personal zeal we cannot be sure. If the latter, then he was surely chosen for the intensity of his love. A true zeal arises out of the desire to remove everything that stands in the way of the object of one’s love. This is surely the hallmark of apostolic life, a love fixated on Christ.

The second is Jude. It is he who asked our Lord at the Last Supper “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jude’s only concern was that Christ should be more widely known, the very job for which he had been chosen.

Yet surely what is curious about our feast today is that we celebrate these two men despite knowing almost nothing else about them. What has just been said in two short paragraphs almost exhausts the biographical information we can learn from the New Testament. We do not even know for certain the place, or the means, of their death.

But Sts Simon and Jude are still foundations stones for our faith. They are the chosen building blocks of Christ our Redeemer. Perhaps, paradoxically, their greatness lies in their obscurity.

This point is made clearer by contrasting them with that conspicuous name which follows theirs on the list of apostles: Judas Iscariot. He too was chosen, named on the mountain top among this select group.

Where did he go wrong? What brought him to the point where he could betray his Lord and God? A comment Judas makes in St John’s Gospel is telling. When Mary anointed Jesus with a costly ointment, Judas’ sole concern was the common purse which he kept. His focus was not on the Lord’s work, but on his own.

The lesson should surely have been learnt right after the apostles were chosen. The first and second halves of today’s Gospel stand in sharp contrast to one another. Immediately after this seminal moment of the choosing of the twelve, what is it that the apostles first do? Absolutely nothing. They come down from the mountain to the place of level ground, and Christ continues his ministry of preaching and healing. St Luke barely mentions them. The apostles are still present, but seemingly idle. This is surely because from now on their sole work is Christ’s work, and while Christ is still doing his work, they are simply to watch, and to absorb.

This was the lesson Judas failed to learn in his concern with his own projects. And it is precisely the lesson Sts Simon and Jude learnt so well in their disappearance into the mission of the Church. Their concern was never themselves or their own projects, but simply to do the work they had been given by Christ. In whatever way each one of us is called to be a disciple, the nobility of our vocation lies in our alignment to Christ alone. Any concern unaligned to Christ, whatever glory or honour may accrue, will only put us at odds with God’s own household.

Sts Simon and Jude were great Apostles, chosen as foundation stones for our faith. And perhaps made all the greater by their obscurity to history. How beautiful a life to live, in which the only thing signified by your name is the fact that you were a bearer of the Word of God.

The painting is Jan Wildens’ Christ and his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Br John Bernard, raised a Catholic by an English father and Dutch mother, first encountered the Dominicans at Blackfriars while studying Classics at the University of Oxford, and entered the noviciate in 2018. An attraction to religious life initially grew out of time spent working with the Missionaries of Charity, which then crystallised into a Dominican vocation through a desire to integrate the contemplative life with preaching and study. Based on his recent reading, he looks forward to delving further into St John of the Cross and the Carmelite mystics, as well as combining his preaching vocation with a love of the outdoors.

Comments (3)

  • Woodhouse John

    Excellent homily

  • Gerard

    The homily is inspiring and very helpful for me as an Enquirer for the Lay Dominicans. Thank you.

  • Ging

    Thank you so much. May you continue to share the light and love of Christ to the world.


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