Monday, June 30, 2014

Martyrdom and Professing the Faith

The Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, Apostles,
Sunday, 29 June 2014

Isti sunt qui, viventes in carne, plantaverunt Ecclesiam sanguine suo: calicem Domini biberunt, et amici Dei facti sunt.
Acts 12:1-11
Ex omnibus terroribus meis eripuit me Dominus.
2 Tim. 4:6-8,17-18
Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam.
Matt. 16:13-19

Much can be said about the two greats whose Solemn Feast we celebrate today, the Princes of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. With their blood at Rome they sealed their witness of faith in Christ Jesus: Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded. Their lives, their teaching and their martyrdom teach us that human achievement is a small and passing splendor. For it is the Lord Himself, in His great mercy towards us, Who does great things for us and therefore we are glad indeed.
          Today’s liturgy places before us something which might actually seem contradictory, the famous expression or teaching: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Christian faith”. The martyrs’ deaths contribute to the growth of the Church and do not put its continuance in peril. In imitation of Christ Crucified, the martyr gives life to the Church, the Bride of Christ. As Jesus laid down His life for the Church, sacrificed Himself for His Beloved, so too the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrs does not diminish but rather magnifies/glorifies God and so too His Body the Church. The glory of the martyrs, Peter and Paul together with the countless other proto-martyrs of the city of Rome, is the glory of the Church of Rome and of the whole Catholic world, which finds its origins in their confession of faith.
          Be it said, though, that the Church’s teaching in this matter is not exhausted by the statement that God wills that the Church of Christ prosper and grow through the example of the martyrs. It is not as simple as that. Last year for the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, promulgated by the Emperor Constantine in the year 313, I read a recent book of history written in defense of Constantine and all he did to put an end to that first age of martyrs, to stop the shedding of blood in the Roman Empire of his day. In the pagan Roman world of those early centuries it was not only the blood of Christian martyrs that was shed. There was the whole phenomenon of gladiators and others who bled and died to satisfy the pagan. Symbolically and for all times, the victory in battle of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, under the Sign of the Cross, eventually put an end to all these bloody sacrifices and recognized as once and for all the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ nailed to the wood of the Cross. The Church, our world, needs no more bloodshed. We live by the Blood of Christ shed once and for all as we profess our faith in Him and are plunged into the saving waters of Baptism, thereby to rise with Christ to new life with Him in the glory of the Resurrection.
          We know that no true martyr of the Church, and certainly not Peter or Paul, ever sought martyrdom. Their original virtue or merit was their obedience to Christ, their confession of faith in Jesus, Son of the Living God. Their confession of faith provoked the hatred of the world around them which would not accept the Kingship of Christ and obedience to God’s Will. This is a rather common experience, which repeats itself sometimes even within our own homes and families. It is not that we as Church live simply to embrace martyrdom, but rather ours is to confess Jesus as the One and Only Savior of the World. We are born of Baptism not necessarily for martyrdom, but to lead others to the saving waters of the baptismal font. We are profoundly thankful when we can fulfill this duty in peace, without bloodshed. Our joy is in living out that witness faithfully without ending up in the lion’s jaws.
          We see the same in the lives of the two princes of today’s feast. In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we read that God through His Angel saved Peter from death at Herod’s hands in the prison of Jerusalem. God graces us with His peace in this life. In the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, Paul declares that he could profess the Catholic faith everywhere thanks to the strength provided to him by God. Paul expresses his confidence in the divine protection and looks forward by the grace of God to reigning with Christ in the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom.
          Jesus founded His Church on the rock of Peter’s faith, “You are the Christ, God’s Anointed, the Son”, Peter said. Right up until our times, through the Church established on the rock of Peter’s faith, we as Church prevail against the gates of Hell, on the sure path which leads to Heaven for any who are ready to hear and follow the call to Baptism.
          We give glory to God always and everywhere. We pray for His Blessing. Grant, O Lord, that from the font of Baptism Your Church might always be able to draw forth confessors of the faith, men and women, saints, religious and priests, truly faithful married couples and parents.

          Blessed be God forever! Blessed in His Angels and in His Saints!

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