Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Martyrs Are Watching Us

Several years ago, I concelebrated Mass in a beautiful church in Italy near Bergamo.  The sacristy of the church was huge and featured beautifully carved vesting cases that ran the length of the room.  At the top of the central vesting case was a magnificent crucifix.  Then, atop of all the other cases were various carved depictions of martyrs undergoing a variety of tortures.  There were those being placed in boiling cauldrons, tongues being torn out of mouths, arrows piercing bodies, limbs being chopped off, beheadings, and any other number of gruesome scenes. 

The whole room seems intent upon preparing the priest for offering the Holy Mass with integrity.  At the center of the sacristy is the crucifix and flowing from that crucifix is the army of martyrs.  The designer of that sacristy wanted the priest (and by extension, the people) to remember that the Mass is the supreme sacrifice.  It is the perfect offering of the Son at Calvary.  And all of those who gather around that scene are called to bear witness to the Faith--even to the point of death.  Let's not forget that many Christians have shed their blood in testimony to Christ.

While there will always be times and places where Christians will be called to shed their blood in defense of the Faith, for now those occasions are rare.  But, there are far more subtle and insidious methods of persecuting the Church, undermining the Faith, and attempting to turn the Church against itself.  And unfortunately, so many Christians seem unprepared, unformed, and unable to resist the seduction of evil. 

It was bad enough when some Catholics would  vote for politicians who opposed the Church on fundamental moral issues such as the right to life without even giving it a second thought.  But now, the Federal Government is mandating that Catholics and others be compelled to violate their consciences.  In the face of this, many Catholics cannot bear even to offer a word of criticism.  They will defend their political candidate at all costs, but will not offer even a whimper in defense of the consciences of their brothers and sisters in the Faith.

In some ways, I think President Obama has done the Catholic Church a great favor.  He has removed any doubt whatsoever that we have grown weak.  Preaching has grown timid, teaching has grown soft, believing has lost substance, and zeal for the Faith has atrophied.

Jonah preached in Ninevah and the whole city repented!  We have something better than Jonah!!!  We have Jesus Christ and him crucified.  We have the Gospel.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have the Sacraments, the Communion of Saints, and the hope of the Resurrection.  We have a Church built upon the Rock of Peter and nourished by the blood of the martyrs. 

Let's name things for what they are.  The attempt by the government to mandate that Catholics violate their consciences under penalty of law is an aggressive attack.  To shrug one's shoulders in indifference (never mind those who promote and defend it) is an abdication of one's duty.  Catholics are duty bound to defend the Church and to defend their brothers and sisters in the Faith. 

One has to wonder if we are so weak when it comes to these subtle and manipulative forms of persecution, how will we ever be willing to do what the real martyrs did?  We who are charged with preaching the Gospel have to lead the way.  We have to be willing to risk saying difficult and unpopular things.  Some will reject us and the Gospel we preach.  That would put us in good company; very good company.  My experience, however, is that more often than not, the Gospel penetrates hearts and brings about a glorious transformation in us.

Every time we offer the Mass, we unite ourselves under the banner of the Lamb who was slain.  We also explicitly unite ourselves to the martyrs.  This has to be more than mere words.  We honor them by standing with them in defense of the Faith.  And, we love future generations of Catholics by providing to them our faithful witness.  We should not surrender so easily what others paid for so dearly.

Faith of Our Fathers Living Still
In Spite of Dungeon, Fire, and Sword
O How Our Hearts Beat High With Joy
When'ere We Hear that Glorious Word
Faith of Our Fathers, Holy Faith
We Will Be True To Thee Till Death!

Our Father's Chained in Prisons Dark
Were Both in Heart and Conscience Free
And Truly Blessed Would Be Our Fate,
If We Like Them Should Die For Thee
Faith of Our Fathers, Holy Faith
We Will Be True To Thee Till Death!

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