In our modern age we run the risk of losing a cultural understanding of Martyrdom, and of Suffering. In the media, martyrdom is often portrayed as someone killing others in the name of God. In our high-schools, and in the media suffering is a way of "Feeling Alive" - consider the problem of "cutting" in high-schools, or movies like "Fight Club" which glorify self-mutilation.
One of the common misconceptions that we can have from today’s readings is that suffering is good. Suffering is not good – it is terrible. To think that I must inflict self-suffering is a false sense of martyrdom. True martyrdom, true witness to Christ is when I suffer because of my witness to His love. Holiness is related to wholeness – when I lead a holy life I develop a healthy sense of self. If in the course of witnessing to Christ I suffer because of my witness to who Christ is – then I am suffering in the sense that St. Peter speaks of in the second reading today. Throughout the ages, and even today there is in the world, some false sense of martyrdom, where we bring suffering upon ourselves needlessly.
True Martyrs reflect the Truth of Christ
What is the driving force of the martyr? - Martyrs are motivated out of love and knowledge of Christ. This ties us into the Gospel today. Jesus is the sheep herder, and we are His sheep when we recognize His voice and follow Him. In our lives of prayer, we come to recognize Christ’s voice calling us along the way to Holiness. This is the path that we are all called to. We begin with a personal encounter with Christ where he becomes for us distinct and undeniable.
Do we Christians authentically witness to Christ?
Many people today deny Christ this opportunity. They feel as if they know what Christianity is about through the people that they encounter who call themselves Christians. Many times that is you and I, we find ourselves in the role of the Pharisees, that we are not encountering Christ, therefore we are not authentically witnessing to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to point out to you where you do not authentically witness to Christ – and ask for the grace of conversion – to change, so that your life becomes like clear crystal – so that people look at how you live your life and give praise to our heavenly Father.
Is Christ different than any other religious figure?
Because of our poor witness to Christ, many people today think that the Church does not provide an authentic understanding of who Jesus is. They say – He was a nice man, He had some good teaching, but He is no different than Buddah, the Dalai Lama, Shiva, Muhammad or any other holy figure. The world teaches that they are all the same and that they all teach about the same thing.
How Christ is NOT David Koresh
This is not true. Part of being a sheep, a follower of Jesus Christ is knowing who He is, and recognizing His uniqueness throughout all of time. Jesus came and claimed to be the Son of God. This is a profound claim. Many people have come throughout time claiming to be the Son of God, but their actions revealed them to be a fake – they were not. Think of David Koresh, who was the leader of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco Texas in the 1990’s – He claimed to be the Son of God, but was not – he was a religious nut.
If we think that Jesus is no different than any other religious teacher – a nice guy, then we don’t know him and we don't take him seriously. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God- and either he is (because he rose from the dead) – or he was isn't. If Jesus is not the Son of God then he is just another religious nut – like David Koresh and has no moral authority at all.
What makes Christ unique, undeniable, Son of God
But Jesus is not like David Koresh, he is not a religious nut-case. He is also not like the Buddha, or Muhammad or any other religious figure throughout all of time because he did come and teach us the way to God, the way to abundant life. He also showed us that he is Truly the Son of God. He did this with his actions and his deeds. He cured the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, instructed the ignorant, corrected the sinners. Then at the end of all of this, when He was crucified, He entered into death and then was raised, resurrected from the grave to lead us to eternal life with our heavenly Father. He didn’t just say that he was the Son of God, he proved it with His actions.
The False image that the world has leads us to repent
How do we who call ourselves Christian’s listen to the words of Scripture today – words that call us to repent, to change our ways, to believe in the Gospel and to give an authentic witness to Christ so that the world can truly recognize Him as the Son of God, in a distinct, undeniable way? How do we exhort our brothers and sisters on this planet to listen to Jesus, and walk in the way of holiness?
True Witness = True Martyr. God brings goodness out of suffering
I began this homily by reflecting on a misconception of suffering that can be had by a poor understanding of today’s second reading. We are called to be martyrs, but we are not always called to martyrdom in the classic sense. All of us gathered here today suffer from sickness, infirmity, and poor health. God does not desire that we suffer. As Christians we are called to endure the sufferings that are placed before us with courage, with the knowledge that God does not will suffering, but rather that he brings great goodness out of suffering. In this way we are invited by Our Lord this week to unite our sufferings to His, and so to allow our life to reflect His, that we can become authentic witnesses to Christ, so that the world can no longer deny Him.
Let us end with the Prayer – the Anima Christi – a Eucharistic prayer that helps us to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever