Sunday, July 4, 2010
This past Friday Robert Hanna, who is finishing his theological studies in Lebanon to become a priest, gave a beautiful lecture on martyrs. He chose 4 examples from the New Testament. First is St. John the Baptist, known as the forerunner in Tradition. John was the cousin of Christ. He was begotten in a miraculous way and was sanctified by the Holy Spirit when still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1). John's father, Zekariah the priest, prophesied that John "will be called Prophet of the Most High." John grew and lived an ascetic life in the wilderness. Before preparing the people for God, John was prepared. The most impressive fact about John is his witness to the truth regardless of the cost. He was, the Bible says, "a voice crying out in the desert" for people to repent. He baptized those who came to him for repentance. Of Christ he said "I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3: 16). John paid the ultimate price at a young age for admonishing King Herod of his sinful life with Herodia, his brother's wife. The second example is St. Stephen, one of the disciples in the early Church who preached about Christ and performed wonders. Stephen was stoned to death by the Jewish elders who opposed his teaching on Christ, Son of God. What made Stephen a great example for all ages is not only his martyrdom but also his prayer to the Lord while dying "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (Acts 7) The third and fourth examples are Sts. Peter and Paul whose feast we celebrated on June 29. Peter was given the keys by Christ to rule over the Church, yet he did not consider himself worthy to die like Christ. He was crucified by the Roman Emperor Nero upside-down. Peter spoke the truth to all. The head of the apostles who denied Christ before the crucifixion became a transformed man after the Resurrection of Christ and spoke without fear to the people at Pentecost. He performed miracles in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul too laboured for the Church more than anyone else, yet he considered himself the least of the apostles. In the 16th century, one of the great martyrs is St. Thomas More. Sir Thomas More sacrificed his property, land and the good life with his beloved family, for he loved his Lord more and could not swear obedience against his conscience although King Henry VIII favoured him as Lord Chancellor of England. Thomas More was beheaded on account of "treason" but he himself said before his death "I die the subject of the king but the subject of God first." Today, we think of those martyrs and many more that paid the ultimate price for the truth. We imitate them as they show us Christ who said "I am the Truth." The entire Christian witness is to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It takes more than talk as it requires daily sacrifice and a life of prayer. We do not have to be martyrs but we need our hearts to get less full of ourselves, our material concerns, and our comfort so that God can have more room in our hearts.