The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Jer 20:10-13 + Rom 5:12-15 + Mt 10:26-33
June 25, 2017
“Because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”
What a glorious day yesterday was in the life of our diocesan family, our parish family, and the Stuhlsatz family. Late last evening, as I looked once again through the program for the Mass of Sister Mary Lucia’s Solemn Profession, I was struck by the nuptial imagery of the prayer and rituals. There are several programs at the back of the church, and I welcome you to take one home and reflect on these prayers and rituals. They so beautifully illustrate how the Solemn Profession for a consecrated religious is a wedding: a wedding of her life to that of her spouse, her husband, Jesus Christ.
Of course, Perry and Janet know all about daughters getting married. But as beautiful as the weddings of their other daughters were, I doubt that any of them matched yesterday’s Mass of Solemn Profession. Likewise, although Perry and Janet’s older daughters chose their husbands wisely, none of those husbands can compare with Sister Mary Lucia’s spouse. So, I’m sorry to break this to you, Kevin, but you’re no longer Perry and Janet’s favorite son-in-law (but you’re still in the running for #2)!
Nonetheless, the fact that a consecrated religious has Jesus for her spouse does not mean that her life is easy. On the contrary, she’s called to share fully in Jesus Christ’s life, including the fullness of his Passion and Death. I’m not just talking about teaching teenagers, although surely that demands at times a death-to-self.
The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita are a community that is both contemplative and apostolic: interior and exterior in living as and serving as brides of Jesus Christ. Our Scriptures today speak especially to the latter, and of course, Jesus’ message today speaks not only to consecrated religious, but to all of us, because every baptized Christian is called to an apostolate of one form or another.
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During the first three centuries of the Church, being a Christian was no easy thing. Christianity was illegal. Every one of the first thirty-three popes was martyred for the Faith. For over three hundred years, to lead the Church from the Chair of St. Peter meant to be killed. It’s no wonder that there arose in the Church such a devotion to the Holy Father, such a reverence for the office of the Pope. In their earthly leader, they could plainly see the image of Jesus Christ, whose death opened the gates of heaven.
Of course, it was not only the popes who became martyrs: thousands of Christians from every walk of life (carpenters, farmers, mothers and fathers, tradesmen, fishermen), were martyred continually until Christianity was recognized by the Emperor in the fourth century.
In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine became Catholic, and suddenly Christianity became not just legal, but the religion of the Roman Emperor. Suddenly, Christian martyrs were a thing of the past. For hundreds of years thereafter, the Catholic faith was wedded to the rule of countries throughout the world. Church and state were one.
Unfortunately, where Church and state worked together, martyrdom often simply took another form. Often, it was not people who were sacrificed; it was the Truth that was sacrificed. It’s much easier to fight a fight when you know who your enemy is. In the first few centuries, Christians knew whom to avoid, and whom to turn to for support. In the centuries since, Christians have struggled to be faithful to God and faithful to the demands of the world at the same time. Here’s an example of such a struggle.
This past week the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Thomas More, a man made famous in the movie, “A Man for All Seasons.” St. Thomas was a loyal subject of King Henry VIII, and a devout Catholic, who for many years served the king as the Chancellor of England, and served the Lord through his prayer each day and his participation at daily Mass.
In time, though, Thomas More was put to the test. King Henry rebelled against the Catholic Church, and claimed that he—not the pope—was the supreme head of the Church in England. All the nobles of England, all royal officials, and all the bishops of England were forced to sign a statement saying that Henry was the head of the Church. The Truth was being martyred by King Henry.
There were only two men in all of England who refused to sign this act: the layman Thomas More, and one bishop, John Fisher, the bishop of Rochester. Suddenly, these two men were the enemy of England. The Catholic faith, legal in England for 1200 years, was once again outlawed.
More and Fisher, unwilling to martyr the truth themselves, were willing to be martyred in place of the truth. The king had them convicted of treason, and had their heads cut off.
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Martyrdom can take many forms, and can have many victims. Often, the truth is martyred, but even more often throughout the history of the Church, there have been people willing to be martyred themselves, in the place of the truth.
But people can be martyred in different ways. The martyrdom of the first centuries of the Church was a clear one: a distinct and final sign of willingness to stand in the place of truth.
In our day, God asks us to endure a different form of martyrdom. He asks faithful Catholics, the members of His Church, to stand on guard, not knowing when truth is going to be attacked. How many of you have been surprised by something you suddenly come across in the newspaper, or seen on television, obviously taking the truth and twisting it? Have any of you ever heard the topic of the Church brought up in conversation, and met with laughs or sneers?
Throughout the Gospel, you don’t hear Jesus talk much about the enemy, the Devil. Even when he was tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not go after Satan. Jesus simply fought against the temptations that Satan placed before Him. When Satan was through trying to tempt Jesus and fled the desert, Jesus did not give chase. Jesus simply continued his fasting and prayer.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says that what we receive here in church—when we come on Sunday (or to daily Mass)—what we receive here in private, among ourselves, we are to be willing to speak in public. We don’t need to go searching for arguments, but when we hear someone putting down the Church, we are being putting down. The Church is the Body of Christ, and we are all members of that Sacred Body. When the Body of Christ is persecuted, when her teachings are ridiculed, we must be willing to speak out against that persecution.
How do we go about doing that? Sometimes, just speaking out, and saying that a remark is offensive, is enough to make someone understand what they’re doing. Sometimes, we may be challenged by another to defend what the Church teaches, and that demands that we have an understanding of our faith. There hasn’t been a saint in the history of the Church who has completely understood the Faith, but we must be willing to explain what we know, and we must be willing to learn more than what we know now, whether by reading about the faith, watching television shows that accurately teach about the Faith, or simply holding a conversation with other Catholics, and learning from one another.
Of course, the greatest resource we have at our disposal is God the Holy Spirit. Through Baptism we have received the Holy Spirit, and those of us who have been confirmed have received the fullness of the Spirit’s seven gifts.
In this regard, I want to share with you a passage from one of the greatest modern writers about the spiritual life. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen was an Belgian Discalced Carmelite priest who taught in Rome for many years. His best-known work is titled Divine Intimacy. One section of this work is titled “Apostolic Action”. This is not just about the twelve apostles, but is about every Christian who is an apostle in the sense of being sent by God from church into the world of daily life. About this matter, Father Gabriel teaches us this:
“Jesus’ apostolic work, which was thoroughly impregnated with sacrifice, culminated in the supreme sacrifice of the Cross. So, too, our apostolic works, if they are to bear fruit, must sink their roots into the fertile soil of self-[sacrifice]. Apostolic action in itself demands sacrifice, either because of the fatiguing life it imposes, or because of the continual contacts with people of different mentalities, tastes, and habits, or because it can expose one to the possibility of failure and of becoming an object of derision. The apostle must accept all these difficulties with a generous heart, convinced that from them, if they are endured in union with Jesus Crucified, will come the fruit of his works.”
 Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., Divine Intimacy (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1996), 74.