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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Martyrdom--Part of our Christian Call

Martyrdom of St. Stephen
   I can remember well being a student at St. William's School in the Dorchester section of Boston.  Our religious studies were based on the Baltimore Catechism but were fleshed out with brief lessons in Church history and stories of the saints.  I was always intrigued by the stories of martyrs who gave their life for the faith and was filled and filled with admiration for them.  I often wondered if I would have the courage to make such a sacrifice if placed in a situation where I had to profess my faith or die.

   As time went on I also thought of martyrdom as a remote possibility, especially for those of us living in the USA.  Yes, the sisters and later the friars who taught me in high school mentioned people in Communist countries who were martyred but it all seemed long ago, or far away, or both.

   I have had occasional encounters with the reality of martyrdom that were more close at hand.  I remember swimming at one of my province's vacation houses a number of years ago.  One of the friars there had served at our mission in China and was expelled by the Chinese government after a time in prison.  He had on his back and legs the marks from the whippings and beatings he endured.  Naturally no one of us wanted to bring up the fact that we had noticed the marks, but it did come up and he told us that he was privileged to have suffered for Christ.  I can't tell you how moved I was by that.

   While In Bolivia I saw several catechists in our mission who had been imprisoned under an oppressive regime there for preaching the Gospel and it's message of justice.  Their heroism to this day is an inspiration to me.

   Here we are today in a world where ISIS terrorists are slaughtering people just because they are Christian (or for that matter for being the wrong kind of Muslim).  In our own country we are not subject to that (yet) but we are often ridiculed for our beliefs in an increasingly secular world that is moving from tolerance of religion to hostility in many instances.

  The word martyr comes from the Greek martyros meaning witness. In that sense we are all called to be martyrs, not necessarily in the sense of laying down our life, but in having the willingness to stand up and speak up for the faith and for the justice that the Gospel demands even if it means rejection, social isolation, imprisonment, or even death.

   Are we willing to be martyrs?  How strong is our courage?  Our faith?  Can we pray that the spirit will give us these gifts if they are lacking to us.  Can we embrace martyrdom as a privilege?

   Jesus tells us, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. (Mt 5: 10-12)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness--For Peace!

   When I was serving in Rome during the Jubilee year of 2000 I noticed that people would see us Franciscans on the street and greet us by saying, "Pace e Bene". That is Italian for Pax et Bonum, Peace and good will, which is the slogan of our order.  We stand for Peace, as I hope, thought I often doubt, do all Christians.

    In the world we live in today, the world of ISIS, Boko Haram, drug cartels and human trafficking, just to mention a few of the expressions of madness in our world, it can seem foolish and naive to speak of peace.  One can feel, as did John the Baptist, like a voice crying in the wilderness.

   That having been said I believe that as a Franciscan, as a Catholic, as a Christian, that I must cry out for peace in the world. The question is, "How does one do that?"  Obviously terrorists who massacre innocent people must be stopped.  I have no problem with that.  The challenge comes in asking how do we stop the cycle of violence in the world.  Realistically it probably won't be stopped until Christ comes again, but in the meantime we must try anyway and not give in to it.

   Pope Francis is setting a good example for us.  He is trying to bring together various peoples in conflict and is inviting them to move forward seeking means other than violence to resolve conflict. I pray that he has success in that endeavor. He recently suggested that there be a world council of religions to promote dialogue ad understanding between people of different faiths.  Popes and other religious leaders can speak the message of peace on a grand scale, and they do, but what about the more localized violence that is all about us? It seems that though we have made great strides in our country in overcoming racism we still have a long way to go.  The recent incidents in places like Ferguson, MO tell us that this is true.  What happened there is a case in point with the problem that we have.  Too many people over politicized and/ race baited and it was almost impossible to get to the truth.

   I love football but the recent spate of domestic abuse among NFL players and the inability of the league to confront it forcefully leaves me with my head scratching.  Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem though, it is a national and worldwide problem that we must confront.  That is also part of peacemaking

   You can see that the cry for peace does not apply only to nations at war but goes down to a very local and personal scale.  Many of you know that I post on Facebook.  That social medium is unfortunately too often a forum for rage and resentment.  At times, even when I agree with an opinion expressed I am appalled at the way it is expressed.  So many of us just shout at each other over the internet.  We have forgotten how to debate and disagree civilly.

  Peace, real Peace, the Peace that Christ came to give us, is elusive on both an international, a local and a personal scale. That has been so right from the beginning.  It is tempting to say, "Just get real. That's the way it is," but as Christians we must keep on trying even if we are seen as voices crying in the wilderness.