Sermons

Summary: What Matthew records of the prophecy given by Jesus about persecutions has been lived out somewhere in the world in every century since the Resurrection.

Tuesday of the 13th week in Course 2020

The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

Today’s news is troubling, and we fear that tomorrow’s will be even worse. Mobs of misinformed and misled millennials have been rampaging across the urban landscapes, tearing down monuments to long-dead role models of American culture, and not just American culture. Moreover, the man at the arrow point of a movement I will not dignify with a quotation is urging the demolition of any statues or defacing of any frescoes of Our Lord Jesus Christ or His Blessed Mother who have any resemblance to white Europeans. Christians are being hounded and vilified as never before. Or, really, are they?

Yesterday we celebrated the solemn feast of the human founders of the Catholic Church, Saints Peter and Paul. On that day, the Holy Father bestows the symbol of office, the pallium, on each of the new archbishops who have been chosen to lead provinces of the Church. But there is on these days the visible reminders of what we can count on if we testify to the Lord Jesus and His Church. In Rome, the feast of the two saints Peter and Paul are celebrated over their tombs, for each was murdered about the same year in the first century. Their earthly reward for their fidelity and witness was execution. And today we celebrate the countless Christians of that early time who were martyred in the persecution of Nero. What Matthew records of the prophecy given by Jesus about persecutions has been lived out somewhere in the world in every century since the Resurrection. Moreover, it is clear that the greatest number of Christian martyrs laid down their precious lives in witness to Christ and the Church during the last hundred and twenty years. The twentieth century witnessed millions of martyrdoms by the Ottomans, Soviets, Nazis, other communists in Cambodia and China, and other uncounted persecuting governments and nationalities.

We feel the hostility of the secular or communist or Islamic persecutors today as most intense because we didn’t live in those earlier times.

Now I know that many Christian preachers and bloggers and vloggers and Internet celebrities are today laying out the coming American elections as a stark choice between good and evil. One party stands for restricting free-speech and gun rights, infanticide and murder of the elderly, imposing confiscatory taxation, drastically curtailing economic activity and fossil-fuel usage, and opening up the borders to all comers. That’s what the other party says about them. That other party promotes, as their opponents tell it, racism, suppression of minority voting, poor health care except for the rich, and social injustice. What both parties seem to have in common, I venture to say, is a promotion of fear as the basic motivation for voting.

Now I admit that our family does come down on one side of this terrible polarization. But I also believe that whatever happens in July primaries or November general elections, God has a plan for those who are willing to say, with the Virgin Mary, “be it done to me according to Thy will.” That is the bottom line. Which of us believes that we will not die? True, as St. John Henry Newman tells us, we cannot put together a formal syllogism demonstrating my–or your–personal mortality. But we know all men and women must die; we just don’t know when.

So why is it advantageous to die for the faith? I was talking to a Baptist neighbor the other day and shared this idea. Even those of us who know that we are not 100% in line with God’s will, who have some attachment to things of this world, or some little vicious habit of gossip or telling little white lies or viewing soft-core porn on the Internet, those who expect to be purified in Purgatory after death, realize this. If you look the government or the criminals in the eye when they ask you to renounce Christ and the Church and say, No, I will not. If you stand for Christ in that decisive moment and are killed, then your heart and your mind are truly, totally dedicated to Our Lord, and He will take you to His eternal presence with no further purification. That’s the meaning of martyrdom.

So, Lord, for those of us who don’t ask for, or expect, that to happen, we do ask that if it does, you give us the grace to witness boldly to Your Lordship and our confidence. And we ask the Blessed Virgin, Queen of Martyrs, to be with us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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