Saint Stanislaus of Krakow, Bishop and Martyr – Readings

Commentary on Revelation 12:10-12; Psalm 33; John 17:11-19

The Gospel is taken from Jesus’ long prayer at the Last Supper, which comes in John’s gospel at the end of the long discourse he makes with his disciples.  In this part of the prayer, Jesus is praying for his disciples in their future mission in the world.   Although they will be in the world, they will not belong to the world, in the sense that they will not identify with the values of the secular world.  He prays:

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

If the message of Jesus is to be spread to people, then Jesus’ disciples must mingle with that world, but not be contaminated by its negative values.  For:

They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

The only way that Jesus’ message will be heard is if its members both by their words and actions challenge the values of the secular world.   And so, although Jesus’ disciples do not belong to the world, he sends them into the world.  That is where their apostolate is to be carried out.  They are to be the leaven in the dough, they are to be the salt that gives taste to the world, they are to be the city on a hill and the lamp giving light to all in the house.

Stanislaus, as bishop, was inescapably involved with political issues, but remained true to the Gospel spirit and eventually gave his life in defence of the Gospel.

The First Reading is from the Book of Revelation and seems a strange choice at first.  The passage is expressed in very apocalyptic and symbolic language.  The first part of the chapter (not in our reading) is nowadays often used as a description of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but that is not likely the intended meaning here.  Rather, the woman symbolises God’s people in both the Old and New Testament.  It was was Israel who gave birth to the Messiah and thus became the new Israel – the Christian Church – which is now being persecuted by the dragon, a symbol of Satan personified in the rule of the Roman Empire. 

This image corresponds to a widespread myth throughout the ancient world that a goddess pregnant with a saviour was pursued by a horrible monster.  By miraculous intervention, she bore a son who then killed the monster.  Because of Eve’s sin, the woman gives birth in distress and pain and indeed the coming of Jesus was preceded by great trials and suffering for the people of Israel.  The dragon’s seven heads perhaps indicate great knowledge and the ten horns widespread power while the seven diadems speak of the fullness of Satan’s domination over the kingdoms of the world.

The woman, Israel, gave birth to a child, destined to be lord of all the nations and who was caught up to God and his throne, a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.  But she then fled into the desert for sanctuary.  In other words, God protects the persecuted church in the desert, the traditional Old Testament place of refuge for the afflicted.  Twelve hundred and sixty days (v 8) is a symbol of the length of time of persecution.

The struggle between the Christians and their Roman persecutors is symbolised by the war between the archangel Michael, traditionally the protector and champion of God’s people (see Dan 10:13,21) and the Satan, the personification of evil.  Michael, of course, prevails as did the Church when the Roman Empire ultimately collapsed. After the battle, Satan now defeated, the author says:

I heard a loud voice in heaven proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

The passage can be read today as a symbolic representation of Stanislaus’ struggle against a wicked king, who brought about the death of Stanislaus but who was himself ousted from this throne because of his wicked act.

We, too, should not be surprised if our Christian Way is attacked, even to the point of violence.  But let us remember the prayer of Jesus and his promise that he will be with us to the end of time.

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