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Giving It All Back to Heaven


“For the Church, the martyrs have always been a seed of life. By their example, they have shown us and made smooth for us, so to speak, the path to the future.” ~ Saint John Paul II

Directly on the heels of yesterday’s Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, today our church pauses to remember its first martyrs, those intrepid trailblazers who laid down their lives for the truth. As the Entrance Antiphon for the Memorial celebration of the Mass appropriately proclaims, “Holy men shed their are glorious blood for the Lord; they loved Christ in this life, they imitated him in their death, and therefore were crowned in triumph.”

The First Martyrs of the Church were the Christians in Rome that were executed within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus. It’s historically important to point out however that they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20), the previously aforementioned Saint Paul. He had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his prolific Letter to the Romans around 57-58 A.D.

Sometimes referred to as the First Martyrs of the See of Rome or the Protomartyrs of Rome, these individuals were framed for a crime they did not commit. Nero burned Rome in an effort to cover his own lengthy litany of crimes, but he in turn accused these Christians of carrying out the arson he perpetrated. Sentencing them to death, some were burned as living torches as Roman dignitaries looked on during evening banquets, some were crucified, and still others were fed to wild lions. “The tyrant dies and his rule is over,” said Soren Kierkegaard, “but the martyr dies and his rule begins.” Today we memorialize those who reside in the eternal beatific vision of the King of Kings, and we seek their intercession to help us to one day join them.

The 1st Reading chosen for this Memorial last year was taken from the Book of Amos (3:1-8, 4:11-12) wherein the shepherd turned prophet delivered something of an apocalyptic warning to those living in the north of Judah who were living dissolute lives It’s a reminder to all of us too of course, a reminder to live a life rooted in the Gospel, with eyes fixed squarely on eternity. Death can come at any time; are we ready to make an account of our lives should that day be today?

Today’s Gospel revisits Matthew’s account of Jesus curing the two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28-34). He does so in a rather creative way, driving the demons who possessed them into a nearby herd of swine, all of which promptly make hoofed tracks for the sea, subsequently drowning

It’s interesting to note the overwhelming authority that Jesus has over Satan in these demonic encounters. Jesus always wins; it’s never even close. This will hold true when the final battle is waged between good and evil, we must always remember that. No one can stand in opposition to the King of Kings, lest they be crushed. Satan’s day will come...and it will go. Swiftly, violently, and convincingly.

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Wherever the Good News of Jesus was preached, it was met with the same opposition that Jesus faced. Consequently many of those who began to follow our Lord shared in His suffering and ultimately, His death. But no human force, not then and not now, can stop the power of the Spirit unleashed upon the world. In that respect, the crimson blood of the martyrs has always been, and will always be, the seed of the faith. “To be a martyr,” observed Blessed Frederic Ozanam, “is to give back to Heaven all that one has received; wealth, life, our whole soul.”

In thanksgiving for these great Saints, I leave you with the Collect from today’s Mass. Let us joyfully offer this prayer while reflecting on the words of Blessed Henry Suso, who said “Suffering is the ancient law of love; there is no quest without pain; there is no lover who is not also a martyr.”

“O God, who consecrated the abundant first fruits of the Roman Church by the blood of the Martyrs, grant, we pray, that with firm courage we may together draw strength from so great a struggle and ever rejoice at the triumph of faithful love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” ~ Amen.

The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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