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Red Friday


“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” ~ Tertullian

We find ourselves today in the latter depths of both the Book of Revelation (20:1-4, 11-21:2) and Luke’s Gospel (21:29-33) as the Liturgical year approaches its denouement. With it there is a heightened sense of drama and urgency in the words of both the Apostle John and the teachings of Jesus as brought to us by the Beloved Physician .

Today we also recognize another martyred member of the Communion of Saints in Catherine of Alexandria (287-305). Known also as Saint Catherine of the Wheel, she was both a princess and a noted scholar who became a Christian at the age of 14. She had a knack for converting those in her midst, hundreds in fact, including the Emperor Maxentius’s wife.

This would enrage the pagan emperor, who ordered that she be tortured and ultimately executed by way of the “breaking wheel,” a popular and particularly gruesome form of execution at the time. When young Catherine touched the wheel however, it miraculously shattered. This lead to her beheading at the age of 18. In today’s passage from Revelation (20:4), John actually recalls his vision wherein he saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God.” Saint Catherine of Alexandria is part of that great “cloud of witnesses” as Saint Paul likes to call the Saints (Hebrews 12:1-2).

“The race is on! Black Friday deals end tomorrow-hurry & save HUGE with incredible Specials!!”

This was just one of the many texts and emails I received this morning in support of the never ending hysteria and pandemonium that is “Black Friday.” In what can only be perceived as a lone but much appreciated act of mercy, at the bottom of one of these texts it read Txt STOP=End. Yet we know that the relentless consumerism of the Christmas Season is unstoppable, an onslaught of largesse and excess like no other.

Reflecting upon the secular bonanza of Black Friday relative to the story of the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria on this her memorial, her “Red Friday” as it were, red to symbolize the blood she shed for Christ, affords us the opportunity to reflect upon that which is eternal and therefore important. In fact we’ve had a healthy spate of martyrs dotting the Liturgical Calendar in recent days, including Saint Clement I yesterday and the beloved virgin and martyr Saint Cecilia three days ago

These were the persevering and courageous souls who kept their eyes fixed squarely on eternity, most notably the final judgment. As we continue through today’s passage from Revelation (20:11-15), John receives a vision of the final judgment:

“I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of lifewas thrown into the pool of fire.”

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To find one’s name written in the book of life. This is eternal and important. It is in the end the only matter of importance, for it determines where we spend eternity. Those who do not find their names written in the book of life will receive no consolation from their chromebooks, their state-of-the-art massage chairs or their PlayStations, regardless of the deal secured or whether or not curbside delivery was included.

Children of the light know that the “race”we run is meant to be run well, as Saint Paul tells us (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Running this race well has nothing to do with dashing to the local department store to save HUGE on flat screen TVs. To compete well for the faith, to once again quote Saint Paul in the waning moments of his life. He too of course would die a martyr’s death.

This pilgrimage can be rocky at times, fierce even. The quote that kicks off today’s reflection would seem counter-intuitive or even contradictory to those who are of this world. Persecution and the death of martyrdom would on the surface appear to diminish the church, yet we know that it has the opposite effect. It is in reality the gifts of Black Friday that are perishing and fleeting, and thoroughly unsatisfying.

We come to realize that we are in this world but not of this world. To that point, as we conform our lives to the liturgical calendar in favor of the secular one, we come to understand that every Friday is in fact Red Friday, because every Friday we commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross. He died so that we could live. We remember that judgment, as we see in today’s passage from Revelation, is real. Hell is real too, this made evident by the fact that Jesus speaks more of hell in the Gospels then he does of Heaven. Saint Benedict would urge his monks to hold their own death before their mind’s eye every day. In reality, all forms of prayer are, in one sense, a matter of coming face-to-face with things of an eternal nature.

Yet we also know that final judgment and these end times readings from Revelation and the Gospels are not meant to frighten or alarm us. They are instead a sublime gift of love, for they urge us to be prepared at all times Salvation is found within the realm of the fullness and richness of God’s truth and love, not in some self delusional haze of materialism and narcissism

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is the remarkable promise made by Jesus in today’s Gospel, and it pairs perfectly with John’s Apocalyptic vision as proclaimed in today’s passage from Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Our time on this earth is very short compared to eternity. It is but a mere passing shadow in the grand scheme of God’s Divine Plan. In making this comparison between the wildly popular Black Friday and Red Friday, I can’t help but notice that black and red are the two prominent colors of a roulette wheel. In life, we are essentially called and compelled to wager on the outcome, to place our bets as it were on what happens after we breath our last.

The words of Jesus, these words that will not pass away, are a promise of eternal life, purchased at a great price. We can indeed stake our lives on this promise from Jesus, for his is a promise that will pass from this life to the next life. It is a promise sealed in his blood, spilled for all of humanity. Unlike the forgotten bag of ginger snaps I recently found nestled in the back of my pantry, Jesus’s words never go stale. They have no expiration date. Whenever Jesus’ words are spoken, order comes from chaos, provided his words find a ready home. Without Christ as its head, the soul is in darkness.

So as the world spends its time in long checkout line and clogged intersections, I encourage you to reflect upon who you are and who you belong to. We will all ultimately choose our eternal dwelling place by virtue of who or what we love, who or what is important to us. In fact Saint Clare of Assisi once said “We become what we love.” The decision is up to us. The stakes could not be any higher. I’m bettin’ on red.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

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