Thursday, December 11, 2008


"St. Damasus I"
Artist and Date UNKNOWN


Biographical Information about St. Damasus I

Readings for the Memorial of St. Damasus I

Readings and Commentary:[1]

FIRST READING: Acts 20:17-18a, 28-32, 36

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters
of the Church at Ephesus summoned.
When they came to him, he addressed them,
"Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock
of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers,
in which you tend the Church of God
that he acquired with his own Blood.
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you,
and they will not spare the flock.
And from your own group,
men will come forward perverting the truth
to draw the disciples away after them.
So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day,
I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears.
And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated."

When he had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
Commentary on Acts 20:17-18a, 28-32, 36

The steady and lively growth of Christianity has started to spark significant resistance from multiple sources. St. Paul now feels compelled to return to Jerusalem but wants to make sure he has left a final message with the leaders in the region of Ephesus. Here he begins his discourse, reminding them of his fidelity to the message he received from Jesus.

St. Paul is speaking to the presbyters that have been appointed over the various communities around Ephesus (a very large city at the time). Having explained that he is returning to Jerusalem, he does not believe he will see them again. Now the Apostle tells them to be on guard against false prophets and teachers, and against members of their own communities who will spread dissension. He reminds them, finally, to keep focused on the Lord’s commands and to remain charitable.

CCC: Acts 20:32 798; Acts 20:36 2636
RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4

R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

The LORD said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool."
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion:
"Rule in the midst of your enemies."
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

"Yours is princely power in the day of your birth,
in holy splendor; before the daystar, like the dew,
I have begotten you."
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent:
"You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek."
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
Commentary on Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

We are given the reference point used in Hebrews 5:1-10. The psalmist, David, reflects upon the call to service of the people. The final verse specifically mentions the High Priest Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the ancient king of Salem (Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20). Like other kings of the time, he also performed priestly functions.

Psalm 110 thanks God for earthly authority, recognizing that it is only through the Lord's strength that authority is exercised. The psalmist uses Melchizedek as an arch-example, he was a secular king in the time of Abraham who ruled on the spiritual side as well. Though he was not of the Hebrew race, he was none the less chosen by God to be priest, not of the line of Aaron. Since the ancient text refers neither to his lineage nor his death, his office is seen as eternal, “You are a priest forever.

CCC: Ps 110 447; Ps 110:1 659; Ps 110:4 1537
GOSPEL: John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and remain in his love.

"I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."
Commentary on Jn 15:9-17

The discourse on the union of Jesus with his disciples continues. His words become a monologue and go beyond the immediate crisis of Christ’s departure. In this passage Jesus focuses on the chain of love from the Father, through the Son, to his adopted sons and daughters.

There is much made of the use of the difference in the Greek words for"love" used in this discourse. When Jesus says: "No one has greater love than this…" the word agapao (intimate, selfless love) is used, while when he says: "You are my friends…" the word phileo (casual "friendly" (brotherly) type of love) is used. St. John uses the two words synonymously so the message is clear, reiterated at the end of the passage: "Love one another."

St. John also distinguishes the disciples' new relationship with God saying, “I no longer call you slaves…I have called you friends.” Jesus designates the disciples “friends of God.” This designation is supported and defined in other places in sacred scripture. It separates the disciples from Moses, Joshua, and David who carried the designation “Servants of the Lord” (see Deuteronomy 34:5Joshua 24:29, and Psalm 89:21). Calling them “friends” of God establishes the same relationship as that enjoyed by Abraham (see James 2:23): “Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called 'the friend of God.'"[3] The clear reference was that they, like Abraham, would be patriarchs of the New Covenant.

CCC: Jn 15:9-10 1824; 15:9 1823; 15:12 459, 1823, 1970, 2074; 15:13 363, 609, 614; 15:15 1972, 2347; 15:16-17 2745; 15:16 434, 737, 2615, 2815

Great Saints are sent by God when Holy Mother Church is in her most dire need. Such was the call of St. Damasus. The work of building the Kingdom of God on earth is, at the best of times, a difficult task and St. Damasus did not come in the best of times. When he ascended to the Papacy there was contention in the ranks of the faithful and with the secular world. Through an abundance of grace and tireless effort, these difficulties were held at bay or overcome. This great saint oversaw the Council of Rome (374) that established the canon of Sacred Scripture. He then commissioned his secretary, St. Jerome, to compile this holy writ into Latin in what became the Vulgate Bible, a source document that would see the Word of God take root in the whole world.

St. Damasus also fought off schismatic forces that threatened Church unity and helped develop the dogmatic underpinnings of the Church by fighting against heretical teachings that sprang up during that difficult time.

What gave St. Damasus the strength and wisdom to guide the Church through these difficult years? So many difficult choices had to be made and the spirit of Christ had to be at the heart of each of them. It is clear in retrospect that this “friend of God” was given an abundance of grace, gifts that opened his eyes and heart to the mind of Christ, the source of love in the world. It was through the loving heart of Christ and the heroic virtue of the man, Damasus, that these difficulties were overcome.

On his feast day, we ask for the intercession of St. Damasus. May we inherit some part of his strength and wisdom as we defend our faith during our daily struggles. May our heats, like his, be filled with the love of God and love of our neighbors.


[1] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved
[2] The picture used is "St. Damasus I" Artist and Date UNKNOWN
[3] St. James synthesizes Isaiah 41:8 and 2 Chronicles 20:7 in which Abraham is called God’s friend.

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