Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb 17, 2019)
1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
I often get asked the question, “What made you become Catholic?” You see, I was not raised Catholic. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil of 1999 after going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program up in Ohio. It’s a question that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on because there are many different things that lead me here. However, there is one that seems to stick out to me the most. It’s reading about the people that were killed for their faith in the early Church. I’m talking about the martyrs. Here are a few examples…
The first recorded martyr was St. Stephen. He was stoned to death in the year 36, which is recorded in the Book of Acts.
St. Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows and left for dead. However, he didn’t die and was eventually nursed back to health. He continued in his faith and was later clubbed to death by order of the emperor… this time, he didn’t make it.
St. Agnes made of vow of perpetual virginity to God and was eventually beheaded for it.
These are just a few examples of people who were killed for their faith. But what about modern day examples? Do people still die for their belief in Jesus Christ?
St. Jose Sanchez del Rio was 15 years old when he was killed during the Cristero War in Mexico. Mexican soldiers “cut the bottom of his feet and obliged him to walk around the town toward the cemetery. They also at times cut him with a machete until he was bleeding from several wounds. He cried and moaned with pain, but he did not give in. At times they stopped him and said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we will spare your life’. José would only shout, ‘I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!'” He was eventually shot to death in front of his parents.
On the night of December 14, 1957, a Cistercian Hungarian priest named Fr. János Brenner, was falsely called to give last rites to a sick person in a neighboring town. This was during the height of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He left his home, carrying his anointing oils and the Eucharist, but was ambushed in the woods outside and stabbed 32 times. He was found dead the next day, still clutching the Eucharist in his hands.
When I read about the church martyrs… it made me want to know more about their faith… because they seemed to get it. They understood that an earthly death, even if it was a painful death, could eventually lead them to eternal bliss in heaven. That is the faith I wanted to study and hopefully live out in my own life.
We live in a section of the world where, more than likely, none of us will have to die for our faith. But it is still happening all over the world. I’ve often thought what I would do if someone held a knife or gun to me and said, “Renounce your faith or die.” I’d probably have a few choice “4 letter words” to offer to the person but hopefully would be able to stay strong in my faith until the end.
The thing that attracts me the most about reading on the martyrs of the church also involves a “4 letter word.” And it is simply this… HOPE. The only reason people would die to this world, rather than deny their faith, is because they have a strong HOPE that what they believe in Jesus Christ and Heaven is real.
It is this same HOPE that Jesus is proclaiming in today’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus says blessed are you who are poor and hungry… who are weeping… who are hated, excluded and insulted. He doesn’t say complain, whine, hold grudges and return the insult. NO! Jesus instead says, “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!”
The hope that this passage from Luke gives us is this… no matter what we are going through, no matter the trials, no matter the struggles… as long as we hold onto our faith… all of the worldly struggles are just temporary. Our ultimate goal is to be in the presence of God in heaven. And that is more precious than any trial we have to go through here on earth. This is what should give us reason to rejoice and leap for joy. It is what gives us HOPE.
So no matter the struggles you are going through at this present moment, remember you are on a journey. A journey that is leading you back into the arms of our one true King, Jesus Christ. And even if you are not called to die for your faith, look to the martyrs of the Church as role models. Just like them, you are called to live out your faith with hope and love until your last breath. And if you are true to your faith and cling to that hope, you will truly “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day” when you finally meet God face to face.