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Pope Francis Challenges Christians to Walk the Way of the Martyrs

By Deacon Keith Fournier
June 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We now carry the mission of preparing the way for the Lord. Like John the Baptizer, we are called to empty ourselves so that we can be filled up with the life of God. We are the ones now called to reveal Him to the world of our own age, an age that has lost its way, inebriated on self indulgence and blinded by the emptiness and arrogance of power.The Holy Father reminded us, "Today's world is sprinkled with martyrs: men and women who are put behind bars and killed just because they are Christian. And there are more of them today than there were in the early days of Christianity."

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Christians who live in the United States should begin viewing ourselves as living in a Pre-Christian culture. I long ago stopped participating in the ongoing debate about whether this is a post-Christian or post-modernist age. We would all use our energies and time better if we just accepted the obvious; this is a new pagan age.

However, we cannot stop there. Our task is to do what the early Christians did, proclaim in both word and deed the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transform it from within; even if that means the shedding of our blood. If it does, God will give us the grace.

At Sunday's Angelus message, Pope Francis spoke about martyrdom. The Sunday Gospel was Luke's account (Luke 9: 18-24) of the encounter between the apostles and Jesus where he asks "Who do you say that I am"?

The response we give to that question is the most important response of our lives. It is also meant to become a daily response.We cannot get by on yesterdays answer.

After Peter gave his response, Jesus told them all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Pope Francis used those words to challenge us to consider our own life response. He reminded us that to lose one's life does not only refer to physical death, although, "the martyrs offer the best example of losing one's life for Christ." 

The Greek word translated into English as martyr means witness. No matter what our vocation or state in life, we are all called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our daily lives.

Whether we are called to shed our blood (traditionally called red martyrdom) or offer our sacrifices daily in a continuous life of poured-out love (traditionally called white martyrdom), we are all to bear witness.

Pope Francis affirmed the daily martyrdom of those who "do their duty with love, according to the logic of Jesus, the logic of giving, or sacrifice." He asked several questions to open up the truth.

"How many fathers and mothers who every day put into practice their faith by devoting their lives for the good of the family? How many priests, monks and nuns give generously their service to the kingdom of God? How many young people who give up their interests to devote their time to children, the disabled, and the elderly?" 

Then he turned to John the Baptizer as an example. John always deferred to the Lord. Called in the womb for a special vocation (Luke 1: 41-45), he led a voluntarily austere life, dwelling in the desert, eating a strange diet and detaching himself from the world. (Mark 1)

Why? In order to get himself ready for his particular vocational response to the Lord's invitation. He was a voice announcing the first coming of the Lord. He proclaimed this truth with  humility "the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie".

As Jesus gradually manifested Himself, John disappeared. He pointed his own disciples to Jesus saying to John and Andrew: "This is the Lamb of God." (John 1)

John the Baptizer was free from disordered self-love and ostentation. He was a man who practiced penitence as a way of life and found the freedom and joy which are its fruit.

He knew that it was never about him. He was a pre-cursor, one who always pointed to the coming of the Lord. When he held God Incarnate in His arms as He baptized Him, John saw the heavens open and the Trinity revealed. (Matt. 3:12-17)

Ever the faithful witness (Greek, martyrion) he embraced his vocation fully. He responded without reserve to God's call, even to the point of shedding his own blood, the ultimate witness. His self emptying teaches us to do the same in our own day and within our own calling.

Jesus paid John an extraordinary tribute, "Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11)

We now carry the mission of preparing the way for the Lord. Like John the Baptizer, we are called to empty ourselves so that we can be filled up with the life of God. We are the ones now called to reveal Him to the world of our own age, an age that has lost its way, inebriated on self indulgence and blinded by the emptiness and arrogance of power.

The Holy Father reminded us, "Today's world is sprinkled with martyrs: men and women who are put behind bars and killed just because they are Christian. And there are more of them today than there were in the early days of Christianity."

He asked, "How many people pay a high price for defending the truth? How many good men prefer to go against the current rather than ignore their conscience, the voice of truth?"

On June 29 we will commemorate the Feast of the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul in the Catholic Church calendar. These two great pillars of Christianity were both martyred for the faith.

Priests and deacons throughout the entire world will wear Red at the Liturgy, symbolizing that the blood of the Martyrs, as the Second Century Church Father Tertullian  proclaimed, "is the seed of the Church."

On the following day, June 30, we will wear Red as we commemorate the Martyrs of the First Church of Rome. The shedding of one's blood in fidelity to Jesus Christ is the final witness to the Faith. Those called to it are prepared by many invitations which precede it.

Pope Francis Challenges Contemporary Christians to Walk the Way of the Martyrs. We need to listen. We need to ask the Lord for the grace needed to bear witness to the truth. 

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