Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered in El Salvador by the Sandinista government because he spoke out against the abuses of the poor by government soldiers.
Three bishops – Bishop Romjah, Bishop Goiditch and Bishop Hopko were murdered by a decree of Russian President Niketa Kruchiev because they refused to deny the authority of the Pope and pledge their allegiance to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Fr. Carl Schmidt, a Passionist priest missionary, was murdered in the Philippine mountains because he spoke out against the abuses of the poor by government soldiers.
Martyrs like these remind us of the point of today’s Gospel reading. Namely, making a commitment to Jesus Christ necessitates taking a stand on matters of our faith and on the moral issues of our day – and sometimes taking the risk of being rejected by others – possibly even those we love. No one of us wants to be a martyr, but today’s Gospel reminds us that every disciple of Jesus Christ is summoned to witness the truth of the Gospel in a world that not only does not want to hear it, but sometimes is anxious to put it to death.
Being a faithful disciple means bringing light to a world that chooses darkness, having a willingness to suffer for what we believe. Accepting the challenged to risk new ways of thinking and turn our hearts over to Him.
Saint Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that we are called to “keep our eyes fixed on Him”, on His Cross And Resurrection.” In today’s Gospel Jesus says: “Do you think I am here to bring peace on earth? No. I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus did not come to console or reassure us; He came to shock us out of complacency. He did not come to leave the world unchanged and our heart undisturbed; He came to stir – things – up so that nothing remains the same. He did not come to slip quietly into our midst and go unnoticed, but rather to cast the earth in flames. “I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish the blaze were ignited.”
Jesus is that fire! He is that powerful transforming force which cannot be restricted. He is that force which has designs on our hearts. He comes in a blast of fiery energy to cleanse our hearts and set them ablaze with the love of God.
In today’s Gospel, we are called upon to make a fundamental decision – to take a stand for or against Jesus Christ. Are we going to be His disciples or not? Are we going to live according to the Gospel or seek life somewhere else? Jesus is not a statesman who comes to teach us how to compromise. Jesus is not a mediator who smooths over differences: rather He is God – who like the prophet Jeremiah strikes at our hearts – speaking the truth.
His is not a Gospel in which everything is tolerated and nothing is really believed, but one which promises suffering and struggle, hardship and opposition. It is a Gospel shadowed by the cross – a Gospel of suffering and following Jesus to Calvary.
When Luke wrote his Gospel, Christianity was severely persecuted. If a person became a Christian, there was division in a family. It someone became a convert to Christianity – it usually meant arrest, persecution and death by being torn apart by wild animals in the Coliseum or Circus Maximus, by being boiled in oil, by being crucified.
If a family member did not report another member of his family who became a Christian, that person would also suffer the same sentence of death.
For us today, being torn apart by wild beasts, or boiled in oil, or crucifixion is not going to happen: but standing with Jesus and His Church may put into danger some of the deepest relationships of our lives; but we have to choose. Standing with Jesus may stir up animosity from people who liked us better when we did not take stands on what we believe.
Jesus demands a Faith that is strong and steady – not wishey-washey! He teaches that nothing can take precedence over loyalty to Him and to His Church. The apostles were loyal, and all but one of them were
martyred. Mary was loyal, and saw her Son executed on the Cross. Bishops Romero, Hopko, Gougitch and Ramjah were loyal and were all martyred for the Faith.
If we truly live our Faith, each one of us will pay a price for it. The price will be: embarrassment, or ridicule, or persecution, or pain, of loss of closeness of someone we love. As our First Reading today recounts, Jeremiah dared to speak the truth and was thrown into a cistern to die because the people found his message demoralizing.
Who knows what suffering awaits us? Who can predict how our life with Jesus Christ might be opposed? We are called to witness to the truth as Jeremiah did: for just like the prophet, we live in a world that often prefers lies and falsehood over the truth. To be faithful to Jesus and to the Church means that at some point, we will endure the cross.